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Iranian president in Caracas, kicking off regional tour

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By Deisy Buitrago

CARACAS (Reuters) – Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was in Caracas on Monday meeting with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro during his first stop on a Latin American tour which will also include Cuba and Nicaragua, Venezuelan state television showed.

Raisi is expected to sign documents to expand bilateral cooperation during the visit, Iran’s state news agency said last week, without providing further detail.

State television images showed Raisi’s arrival at an airport near Caracas and then his entrance to the presidential palace, where he greeted Maduro and both leaders stood for their countries’ national anthems.

Iran and Venezuela, both under U.S. sanction, signed a 20-year cooperation plan in Tehran last year, pledging partnership on oil, defense and other issues.

That deal includes repairs to oil refineries in Venezuela, which has the world’s largest crude reserves but has struggled to produce enough gasoline and diesel, leading to intermittent shortages that have forced drivers to queue for hours to fill up their tanks.

Iran has provided fuel and diluents to convert Venezuela’s extra-heavy crude into exportable varieties and since 2020 has supplied parts for repairs to the refining circuit.

A unit of Iran’s state-owned refiner NIORDC signed a 110 million Euro contract in May 2022 to make repairs at Venezuela’s smallest refinery, El Palito, which has a 146,000 barrels per day capacity.

Iran is also set to be involved in a modernization project at Venezuela’s largest refinery complex, which includes the Amuay and Cardon refineries, partly to restore distilling capacity.

(Reporting by Deisy Buitrago, additional reporting by Vivian Sequera and Mayela Armas; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Alistair Bell)

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