MEXICO CITY - Iran is exploring ways to expand anemic trade with Mexico as part of stepped up efforts to deepen ties with Latin America, a top Iranian diplomat said Thursday.
Annual trade between Mexico and Iran is a mere $50 million, compared to $2 billion with Brazil, said Ali Reza Salari, Iran's deputy foreign minister for the Americas.
"We are here to investigate, why so low?" Reza Salari told reporters in Mexico City, where he was to meet with diplomats and business leaders. "With Mexico, there is absolutely no political problem between us. No cultural problems. It shows we have many shortcomings in our trade relations."
Iran has a deepening alliance with some leftist-led Latin American countries, based partly on mutual antagonism toward the United States. Housing projects have brought hundreds of Iranian engineers and specialists to Venezuela, and Tehran has opened new embassies in Nicaragua and Bolivia.
Deeper ties with Mexico's U.S.-friendly conservative government would necessarily be more practical in nature. Mexico has been trying to find new markets for its exports in a bid to ease economic reliance on the United States - especially since being dragged to the brink of recession by U.S. financial turmoil.
That could provide an opportunity for Iran as it seeks to ease its international isolation. Reza Salari said he sees opportunities to expand tourism and energy cooperation with Mexico, but acknowledged that such efforts are at a tentative phase.
Reza Salari said President Barack Obama's election raised hopes in Iran for better relations. But he suggested that concrete steps toward easing tensions are a long way off and complained that the Obama administration has sent mixed messages about its stance toward Iran's nuclear program.
"After President Obama, we think that the tone has changed in America," Reza Salari said. "We want to be patient, give them some more time to thoroughly investigate and see for themselves what are the real solutions for the ambiguities and the crisis."
Obama has signaled a willingness for dialogue with Tehran, particularly over its nuclear program. But Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Thursday that the Obama government would seek to end Iran's nuclear ambitions. That immediately prompted an angry rebuke from Iran's U.N. envoy.
Iran insists its nuclear program has only peaceful energy purposes, while the U.S. and many European countries accuse it of secretly trying to build atomic weapons.