ahmadinejad - AP - December 6 2011
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Photo by AP
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The United States on Friday urged Latin American countries not to strengthen ties with Iran as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prepares to visit the region.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that the Iranian regime is reaching out for friends as it comes under increased international pressure over its nuclear program.

"We are making absolutely clear to countries around the world that now is not the time to be deepening ties, not security ties, not economic ties, with Iran," she said.

She said instead it was time for Iran to begin complying with international obligations.

Ahmadinejad is expected Sunday in Caracas at the start of a five-day tour which will take him to Nicaragua Tuesday and then on to Cuba and Ecuador.

Experts noted that Iran is reaching out to Latin America, in particular the left-leaning countries within the region, in an effort to side-step economic sanctions and find new markets.

In recent weeks, Tehran has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, where some 35 per cent of the world's seaborne oil passes, if the West imposes new sanctions in reaction to Iran's disputed nuclear program.