Castro ends visit to Iran saying he has found new friends
TEHRAN, Iran -- (AP) -- Cuban President Fidel Castro ended a three-day visit to Iran Thursday, saying he had found new friends and was optimistic about future relations between the two nations.
Dressed in his usual olive-green military fatigues, which he had swapped for suits during two days of meetings with Iranian officials, Castro received an official farewell at Tehran's Saadabad Palace from President Mohammad Khatami.
"I had friends in Iran, but with this visit I have found new friends,'' Castro said at the farewell ceremony. "This was a memorable visit for me. ... I leave with optimism about future ties.''
After bidding Castro farewell, Khatami said: "This visit was not about exploring new issues, but about expressing the two countries' will strengthen ties.''
Castro has received something of a hero's welcome in Iran, where
his 40-year struggle against the United States is admired. Both countries
are under unilateral U.S.
sanctions and, year after year, both appear on Washington's list of countries that sponsor terrorism.
In a joint statement Thursday, the two countries condemned terrorism
as well as the sanctions. They also called for establishment of an independent
and the return of all Palestinian refugees to their homeland.
The statement called for cooperation at the United Nations as well as in the Group of 77 countries and the Non-Aligned Movement. Iran currently heads the G-77, an association of developing countries. They agreed also to continue cooperation in pharmaceuticals and medical training.
Before departing Iran, Castro stopped off at the north Tehran home of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, father of the Iranian revolution. He was shown a short film on Khomeini's life and visited his library before heading on to the airport. Earlier in his visit, Castro had laid a wreath at Khomeini's grave.
On Wednesday, Castro received an honorary doctorate for his struggle against the United States from Teachers' Training University in Tehran. Shortly after, he gave a speech at Tehran University. To chants of "Fidel! Fidel!'' Castro told Iranians the United States was an "imperialist king'' who would fall just as the U.S.-backed shah of Iran fell in the 1979 Islamic revolution.
U.S. sanctions have been in place against Iran since the revolution. Washington severed ties and imposed sanctions after Muslim militants stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.
Also Wednesday, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told Castro the affection shown by Iranians stemmed from Cuba's stand against American "arrogance.''
In a speech broadcast on Iranian state television, Khamenei said that through cooperation, Iran and Cuba could break the ``image'' of the United States.
Castro arrived in Iran from Algeria. He left Tehran for Malaysia, with some expectations that he might make a short stop in Qatar en route. Cuba's government rarely announces Castro's travel schedule in advance.