Ahmadinejad Cancels Latin America Trip Without Explanation

Israel had protested Iran leader's plan to visit Brazil; concern growing over Iran influence in region.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has canceled a trip to Latin America scheduled for this week, Iran's official state news agency reported on Monday.

Ahmadinejad was to leave Wednesday for visits in Brazil, Venezuela and Ecuador, according to IRNA, which gave no reason for the cancellation.

The Iranian leader will travel on Tuesday to Syria, a country with which Tehran is closely linked.

News of Ahmadinejad's canceled trip comes after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday that the U.S. is working to improve relations with Latin America to counter Iran's growing influence there.

An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Monday dismissed those claims, saying all nations have the right to improve relations.

In recent years, Ahmadinejad and Venezuela's leader, Hugo Chavez, both known for their anti-U.S. rhetoric, have boosted ties.

Israel had vocally opposed Ahmadinejad's planned visit to Brazil, and summoned that country's ambassador to Israel, Pedro Motta Pinto Coelho, to register a protest.

Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said last week that Ahmadinejad would be welcomed despite Israel's protest.

"If we stop taking visitors because certain countries disagree with them, we would not be able to accept hardly anyone," O Globo quoted Amorim as saying.

But he also said that President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will express his discontent with Ahmadinejad's description of Israel as a "cruel and racist" entity.