Cuba's Castro Greets Iran's Khatami at Havana Airport
Cuban President Fidel Castro made an unexpected appearance at the Havana airport to greet visiting Iranian president Mohammad Khatami late Friday.
The Iranian leader was scheduled to meet Castro later in the evening, hold formal talks on Saturday, and leave Cuba on Sunday.
Khatami traveled from Venezuela where he attended the two-day summit of the OPEC oil cartel.
Before leaving Caracas Friday, the Iranian leader held rare bilateral talks with Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan. The two nations have yet to normalize relations following the Iran-Iraq war that ended in 1988.
Prior to Khatami's arrival, Iran's ambassador to Cuba, Davood Salehi, said he was to be welcomed "with full state honors by Cuban President Fidel Castro."
The newspaper Granma, controlled by Cuba's ruling communist party, said Friday that the visit would bring Iran and Cuba, both listed by the United States as sponsors of state terrorism, closer together.
"The visit of the Iranian president reaffirms the will to strengthen the historic ties that exist between the two countries and peoples," it said.
Cuba and Iran are both under trade embargoes imposed by the United States, though Iran has benefited from a partial lifting of sanctions in force for the past two decades.
Though ties between Washington and Tehran appear to have thawed since Khatami's election to the presidency in 1997, Cuba and the United States are still caught up in Cold War hostility and suspicion.
Salehi, without mentioning the United States, expressed hope that "arrogance and imperialism will cease to impose embargoes on countries like Cuba and Iran."
Khatami's visit comes on the heels of trips to Cuba by several Iranian senior officials, most recently by First Vice President Hassan Habibi for the Group of 77 summit in Havana.
Tehran and Havana have a number of bilateral accords, in fields including biotechnology, scientific exchange programs and fishing. No accord on oil exists, although Cuba depends on oil imports to fuel most of its power plants. Havana exports medicine, vaccines and sugar to Iran.
During the visit Castro is to bestow on the Iranian president Cuba's highest decoration, the order of Jose Marti, Cuba's national hero.
Later, Khatami will place a wreath at a memorial to Marti, then tour genetic engineering and biotechnology enterprises before doing some sightseeing in Havana's old town center. An official reception at Havana's Palace of the Revolution will cap the visit late Saturday.
Salehi said that Cuba's Vice President Carlos Lage -- architect of the country's limited economic reforms -- would travel to the Iranian capital October 5 --
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)