Hugo Chavez praises Iranian president for his firm anti-US stance

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez praised his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for standing up to Washington. Chavez demanded the U.S.A. should destroy its own nuclear arsenal instead of harassing Iran over what he claims is a completely peaceful nuclear energy initiative.

Ahmadinejad met with Chavez as both were preparing to travel to New York for this week's U.N. General Assembly, calling his Venezuelan host "the leader of the struggle against imperialism" and thanking him for strongly opposing U.S. efforts to control Tehran's nuclear program.

"Iran is not making an atomic bomb. The ones that have many atomic bombs, and I repeat, many, are precisely the U.S. imperialists and their allies in the world," Chavez said. "They should give the example before making demands. They should destroy their nuclear arsenal."

Iran insists its nuclear research is aimed solely at peaceful uses despite concerns among U.S. and European governments that it could be trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Venezuelan and Iranian officials signed a series of accords, including agreements for Tehran to help Venezuela develop oil fields. The governments plan to build factories to produce everything from bricks to bicycles, and have agreed to set up a US$2 billion (Ђ1.6 billion) investment fund.

"We have thoughts, objectives and interests in common," Ahmadinejad said through an interpreter. "We must be united to be able to make these ideas reality with the aim of achieving justice and peace."

Iran and other Middle Eastern leaders are backing Venezuela's bid for a U.N. Security Council seat, which would give Chavez a platform to battle a U.S. drive for sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

The U.S. government "is afraid of Venezuela's voice on the Security Council. They're afraid of our voice, our presence," said Chavez, who also warned the United States not to use military force against Iran.

"If the empire decides to attack Iran it will regret it for centuries," he said.

The U.S. has sought to block Venezuela's attempt to win the Security Council seat, supporting Guatemala instead ahead of a secret-ballot vote next month.

A leading Jewish group, the Venezuelan Confederation of Israeli Associations, expressed discomfort over the visit by a leader who has called for Israel's destruction.

"We feel outrage," said Freddy Pressner, the group's president. "We can't be pleased or satisfied with the presence of someone who has said publicly that one solution (to the Mideast conflict) is the destruction of the state of Israel."

Jewish leaders spoke at a seminar where some expressed concerns about anti-Semitic incidents including graffiti spray-painted on a synagogue and recent newspaper cartoons deemed offensive. The Venezuelan government says its critical stance against Israel is unrelated to its relations with Jews, which it says remain open and positive.

Since taking office in 1999, Chavez has strengthened ties with Middle Eastern, Asian and African nations while distancing this oil-rich South American country from the United States, the AP reports.

Chavez and Ahmadinejad plan to visit an oil field on Monday for a ceremony marking the start of joint drilling. They also plan a tour to a joint-venture tractor-assembly factory in eastern Venezuela.

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