BRASILIA, Brazil - Israel's foreign minister met with Brazil's president Wednesday and asked Latin America's biggest nation to use its influence to help halt Iran's nuclear program.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's 10-day trip to four South American nations is aimed at staunching Iran's growing influence in the region, and perhaps beyond.
"I think that Brazil more than other countries can try to convince Iranians to stop their nuclear program and, of course, to convince the Palestinians to start direct talks," he said after meeting Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Lieberman noted that Brazil has good ties both with Muslim nations and with Israel.
Israel sees Iran as a major strategic threat, fearing it is developing a nuclear weapon and noting its development of long-range ballistic missiles. Concerns have been sharpened by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repeated references to the destruction of the Jewish state.
Silva made no comments following his hourlong meeting with Lieberman.
But Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said that Brazil's constitution prohibits the creation of nuclear weapons and "we hope other countries also have nuclear research only for peaceful purposes."
Israeli officials also have expressed concern at Iran's growing ties with leftist-led nations in Latin America. Iranian companies are building apartments, cars, tractors and bicycles in Venezuela and the two countries' leaders have exchanged visits.
Iran has opened new embassies in Bolivia and Nicaragua and a secret Israeli report recently suggested that Bolivia and Venezuela were supplying uranium to Iran - an allegation sharply denied by both Latin American countries.
A top Israeli diplomat for Latin America accompanying Lieberman told The Associated Press that Israel also wants to halt alleged Hezbollah activities in the region.
"Ever since Ahmadinejad was first elected as president (in 2005), it seems Iran is making a big effort to penetrate Latin America," Shavit said. "This is worrying for us."
Shavit alleged that Hezbollah cells are present in Venezuela's border area with Colombia. She did not offer proof and Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has denied the allegation.
"It may be right now they're not active, but they might be active tomorrow," said Shavit, deputy director-general of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Latin America and the Caribbean.
The U.S. and Israel consider Lebanon-based Hezbollah - which receives support from Iran and Syria and has often clashed with Israel - to be a terrorist group.
Calls to Iran's ambassador in Brazil were not returned. But he rejected allegations that Iran is supporting Hezbollah activities in South America in an interview with the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper earlier this week, saying they were made by "an intolerant regime that suffers two crises - of legitimacy and acceptability."
Shavit noted that Argentine prosecutors say that Iranian and Hezbollah were behind the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy that killed 29 people in Buenos Aires and the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre there that killed 85.
An Argentine judge has asked Interpol to arrest suspects in the case. Iran has denied involvement.
Associated Press writers Bradley Brooks in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.