By Dave Graham
MANAGUA (Reuters) - Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega on Tuesday urged Israel to destroy its nuclear weapons to foster peace in the Middle East as he hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who is touring Latin America.
Speaking in a ceremony where he was sworn in for a second consecutive term in office, Ortega attacked the U.S. "occupation" of Afghanistan and Iraq, condemned the killing of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and offered a brief valediction to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Ortega - flanked by his close ally, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez - defended Iran's stated intention to develop atomic energy for peaceful ends, an explanation Western powers say is a cover for a nuclear weapons program.
"Simply by starting to push for talks in the region in which the steps are laid down for Israel to give up and destroy these nuclear arms, I'm certain this would bring about great peace in the region," the former Marxist guerrilla said.
Instead, western powers are ignoring those with nuclear weapons and threatening a country which only wanted atomic energy for peaceful purposes, Ortega added, pointing to Iran.
"Christ never said: Israel arm yourself, arm yourself to the teeth," said Ortega, whose speech moved swiftly from one topic to the next, backed by a musical accompaniment of strummed guitars and chanting peppered with rapped shouts.
Ortega, 66, suspended diplomatic ties with Israel in 2010 in protest after Israeli commandos staged a deadly raid on a flotilla trying to break a blockade of Gaza.
Israel, which Ahmadinejad once said should we wiped off the map, is believed to have nuclear weapons. But it has never formally admitted to possessing them.
Ahmadinejad is visiting leftist leaders in Latin America known for their antagonism to the United States. His visit comes after the Islamic Republic fanned tensions with western powers by threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz, the world's most important oil shipping lane, in response to possible new sanctions over its nuclear plans.
In his long speech, Ortega called the killing of Gaddafi in October a "crime" and said the late Libyan leader should have been put on trial if there had been evidence against him.
With Chavez at times looking on intently from the side, Ortega took aim at arms manufacturers, and said the U.S. invasion of Iraq had been built on falsehood. Next to Chavez sat Ahmadinejad and his interpreter.
Reflecting on the Iraq war, Ortega remembered Saddam with the words: "may he rest in peace." Saddam was hanged in 2006, three years after he was overthrown by a U.S.-led invasion.
Attending the inauguration were mostly Central American and Caribbean leaders, as well as Crown Prince Felipe of Spain.
The United States, which complained about the disputed vote that gave Ortega a landslide in November, sent representation from its embassy, according to Nicaraguan authorities.
The election strengthened Ortega's grip on power, giving him a two-thirds majority in parliament for the first time.
Backed with petrodollars from Chavez, Ortega built his re-election strategy on welfare programs that have cut poverty in Central America's poorest nation.
(Additional reporting by Ivan Castro; editing by Mohammad Zargham)