Key Points:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is to kick off a four-day tour Saturday to Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela, whose leaders share his defiance towards the United States, media said on Wednesday.

"Ahmadinejad will start his visit with a trip to Venezuela to hold official talks with his counterpart President Hugo Chavez," the Kayhan newspaper quoted a presidential statement as saying.

The Iranian president has maintained a close relationship with his fiery Venezuelan counterpart, who has given his unequivocal support to Iran's nuclear programme and its hostility towards the United States.

Ahmadinejad visited Venezuela last September while Chavez has made numerous trips to the Islamic republic. After his one day visit to Caracas, Ahmadinejad is scheduled to head to Managua to hold talks with the Nicaraguan president elect and former US foe Daniel Ortega.

According to the report, the Iranian president will on Monday take part in the swearing-in ceremony of the Ecuador's new president Rafael Correa, who won his country's presidential election last November.

Correa has vowed to seek stronger ties with Venezuela, oppose a free-trade deal with the United States, and not renew the lease for a US military air base on Ecuador's Pacific Coast.

Ahmadinejad will also hold meetings with other South American presidents including Bolivia's Evo Morales, before wrapping up his tour on Tuesday, the report added.

- FP