Iran, Venezuela relations worry Baird

OTTAWA - Canada is increasingly concerned with the growing cozy relations between Iran and Venezuela and intends to press the issue with the regime of Hugo Chavez in Caracas next week, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Sunday.

"I'm concerned about Iran in general," he told The Canadian Press from Lima, Peru. "I'm concerned about their nuclear program. I'm concerned about their support of terrorism.

"And I'm concerned about their deteriorating human rights record at home. So I don't think we'll see eye to eye with Venezuela on that."

Baird is on an eight-day, six-country Latin American tour that also took him last week to Cuba, the hemisphere's most repressive anti-democratic country. He visits Caracas on Wednesday.

The Cuba-Venezuela bond was underscored as Baird arrived in Havana on Friday. He was greeted with the release of a new photograph of Chavez convalescing happily in a Cuban hospital, where he has spent the last two months receiving treatment for cancer.

Though Venezuela is a functioning democracy, it has in Chavez an aging and ailing iron-fisted leader similar to that of communist Cuba, where Raul Castro, 81, succeeded his iconic, 86-year-old brother Fidel five years ago, and has begun instituting modest economic reforms.

Baird said he is pushing for deeper economic and commercial engagement for Canada in both countries because that can promote change at what is looking like a pivotal moment in history.

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