Venezuela, Iran plan to open joint cement plant soon, Chavez says

Venezuela and Iran will soon open a joint cement plant in the South American country, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Sunday, calling Iran a "sister republic."

The two governments have had close relations in recent years and have signed agreements to cooperate in oil exploration and to manufacture tractors in Venezuela.

Chavez said he met Saturday night with the ambassador of Iran and that the two had agreed to set a date to inaugurate the cement factory. He did not specify when the plant would begin production.

In a statement issued Friday, Venezuela's top diplomat for Asia and the Middle East, William Izarra, said there were no plans to sign a nuclear energy accord with Iran. The remark came more than five months after Chavez said his government was interested in the possibility of developing nuclear power for peaceful uses and was looking to Iran as an example.

"There is still no plan with regards to that," Izarra was quoted as saying. Iranian diplomat Saeed Jalili confirmed there had been no agreement on nuclear issues, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Chavez has defended Iran's right to develop a nuclear energy program for peaceful purposes despite opposition from Washington, which fears Tehran may be secretly working on developing a nuclear weapons program. Iranian officials have repeatedly denied that claim.

Venezuela, for its part, is studying the possibility of using nuclear power to generate electricity.

A major oil producer, Venezuela currently generates more than half its electricity using hydroelectric dams.

Also on Friday, Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel expressed disagreement with a recent statement by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Israel should be "wiped off the map."

"I'm against any action toward erasing from the map any nation of the world," Rangel said, AP reported. V.A.

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