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By Nelson Acosta
HAVANA (Reuters) -Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi met with Cuban counterpart Miguel Diaz-Canel on Thursday, his last stop on a three-nation Latin American tour aimed at shoring up support among Latin American allies saddled, like Iran, by U.S. sanctions.
Raisi told reporters at a trade forum in Havana early on Thursday that Cuba and Iran would seek opportunities to work together in electricity generation, biotechnology, and mining, among other areas.
"The conditions and circumstances in which Cuba and Iran find themselves today have many things in common," Raisi said in a conversation with Cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canel. "Every day our relations grow stronger."
Top officials signed administrative agreements vowing to boost cooperation between the countries' ministries of justice, and customs agencies, as well as in telecommunications.
Raisi earlier this week visited with leaders of fellow oil-producer Venezuela, where he pledged to ramp up bilateral trade and expand cooperation in petrochemicals. Prior to arriving in Cuba, the Iranian president also met with Nicaragua´s Daniel Ortega in the Central American country.
"Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Iran are among the countries that have had to heroically confront sanctions (...) threats, blockades and interference by Yankee imperialism and its allies with a tenacious resistance," Diaz-Canel told his Iranian counterpart.
"This visit reinforced our conviction that we have in Iran a friendly nation in the Middle East, with which to confide ... and talk about the most complex global issues."
Asked earlier this week about Raisi's tour of Latin America, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said the Iranian president could speak to his own agenda.
"We don’t ask countries in this hemisphere or any other to choose who they’re going to associate with or who they’re going to talk to or who they’re going to allow to visit," Kirby said. "That’s for them to speak to. We’re focused on our own national security interest in the region."
Raisi´s visit comes as Cuba also moves to bolster ties with distant, but critical, allies like Russia and China, both subject to U.S. sanctions.
Diaz-Canel last year also met with the presidents of Russia and China, firming up relations and signing deals to ease the country´s debt burden and secure aid following the devastating impacts of Hurricane Ian, which ravaged the island last fall.
Communist-run Cuba has been under a wide-reaching U.S. trade embargo since shortly after Fidel Castro´s 1959 revolution. Those restrictions, reinforced by then-U.S. President Donald Trump, have contributed to a nearly unprecedented economic crisis that has led to shortages of food, fuel and medicine.
Raisi called his visit with Iran´s key Latin American allies a "turning point" in relations.
(Reporting by Nelson Acosta; editing by Dave Sherwood and Jonathan Oatis)