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Defense: Gates warned on Iran-Latin America ties, and Bolivia´s Evo Morales will have nuke-agreement with Teheran.

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reviews the military guard in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Sunday Nov. 21, 2010. Gates is on a four-day trip to South America. Photo Juan Karita

Bolivian President Evo Morales had a blunt message for the visiting U.S. Pentagon chief on Monday: Latin American nations will pick their own friends and business partners, including Iran, regardless of U.S. opinion, according to a report  of Associated Press AP.

The colorful leftist leader delivered an hourlong welcome to delegates at a regional defense conference that included U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Morales never mentioned Gates by name. But most of the speech, and all of the applause lines, were clearly directed at the Pentagon chief and former head of the CIA.

Bolivia is more democratic and representative than the United States, Morales said, and democracy would improve in the entire region if the United States stopped interfering. Bolivia receives $70 million in U.S. aid annually, much of it for popular nutrition and health programs.

He mentioned the spread of Iranian and Russian business and other ties in Latin America, and said it is not the U.S. place to complain.

“Bolivia under my government will have an agreement, an alliance, to anyone in the world,” Morales said. “Nobody will forbid us,” he said to applause.

Morales has allied Bolivia with Venezuela, Cuba and Iran, and drawn criticism from the U.S. for the Tehran ties.

Last month Bolivia said it is interested in buying Iranian-made airplanes and helicopters for military training and transportation. Bolivia also wants to team up with Iran to build a nuclear power plant and establish a joint development bank. Venezuela is teaming with Russia on a civilian nuclear plant.

Gates didn’t seem fazed by the one-hour monologue. A day earlier he had warned that countries doing business with Iran should remember that Iran is under international sanctions over its nuclear program. He also questioned whether Iran has the technical capability to help another nations develop civilian nuclear power.

“As a sovereign state Bolivia obviously can have relationships with any country in the world that it wishes to,” Gates said Sunday. “I think Bolivia needs to be mindful of the number of United Nations Security Council resolutions that have been passed with respect to Iran’s behavior.”

Gates addressed the defense ministers’ forum later Monday. His remarks were brief and focused on cooperation across the Western Hemisphere. He did not mention Morales or the wider current on anti-Americanism among some Latin American nations.

“Let us not lose sight of our shared dreams and common aspirations of a free, prosperous and secure Americas,” Gates said. READ MORE HERE