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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Iran president cements anti-U.S. front with Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shored up opposition to a U.S. drive to curb Iran's nuclear program on a visit to Venezuela on Sunday that cemented an anti-American front with President Hugo Chavez.

Ahmadinejad's first trip to Venezuela highlighted Iran's backing for the fellow
OPEC country's bid for a
U.N. Security Council seat that Chavez would use to challenge Washington's campaign for international sanctions against Tehran.

Chavez, who Washington calls a destabilizing, anti-democratic force, cast the visit as two countries jointly defying what he says is the imperialist aggression of the world's only superpower.

"Iran is one of the emerging countries of Asia, the Middle East. Venezuela is one of the emerging countries of Latin America," he told a state-owned TV network. "It is a union that seeks a balance in the world and to save the future of your children, my children and our grandchildren."

Buoyed by high oil prices that underpin their popularity at home and tapping into anti-American sentiment around the world, both presidents are awkward foes for the United States.

"Two revolutions are giving each other a hand," Chavez said at the capital's airport where he welcomed Ahmadinejad, walking with his arm across the visitor's shoulders.

Iran established an Islamic republic after a 1979 revolution that ousted a U.S.-backed leader and Chavez says he is creating his own revolution to overturn capitalist and U.S. influence in the South American country.

Iranian-Venezuelan ties have previously focused almost exclusively on cooperation as major oil exporters, but the leaders emphasized their new bond in standing up to America.

"Nowadays, we have common goals and interests," Ahmadinejad said. "We have to be united ... to achieve peace and justice."

"I salute all the revolutionaries who oppose world hegemony," he added in an apparent reference to the United States.

The presidents did not focus on the nuclear issue, preferring to stress economic pacts, including a project to quantify Venezuelan oil reserves.


Ahmadinejad's two-day stop in Venezuela is sandwiched between a trip to Cuba for the summit of Non-Aligned Movement countries, which called on developing nations to challenge U.S. dominance, and a visit to the
United Nations in New York.

At the world body's general assembly, Ahmadinejad will lobby for Iran's right to develop nuclear programs it says are for peaceful power generation despite Washington's assertion Tehran is trying to build an atomic weapon.

Chavez will press for a Security Council seat against a U.S. campaign supporting Venezuela's rival, Guatemala.

Chavez accused the United States of a smear campaign against Venezuela and Iran, saying it was spreading lies that Ahmadinejad's visit was to secure Venezuela's uranium for its nuclear programs.

"They don't get tired of lying," he said.

Limiting Iran's nuclear programs and curbing the socialist influence of Cuba ally Chavez are among Washington's top foreign policy priorities.

But Larry Birns of the Washington-based thinktank, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, said the United States has little to fear from the countries' closer ties.

Venezuela will keep supplying crucial oil to its main market, the United States, and if it wins a rotating U.N. seat, its vote will not be key, said Birns, who is sympathetic to some of Chavez's anti-U.S. stances.

"This is a visit that is a statement of solidarity rather than any plan for action," he said.
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