Iran and Venezuela begin joint drilling, strengthen alliance against U.S.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Venezuelan host, Hugo Chavez, strengthened an alliance against U.S. influence on Monday, visiting an oil field to mark the start of a joint drilling operation.

Wearing hardhats, the Venezuelan and Iranian presidents shook hands with oil workers and questioned them on crude exploration at the inauguration of drilling rigs in Venezuela's Orinoco River belt believed to be one of the largest petroleum deposits on the planet, with roughly 30.7 billion barrels of crude.

"We are joining you so this massive petroleum reserve, the biggest any country has in the world, serves us for the development of our peoples," Chavez said following the ceremony in San Tome, a town about 360 kilometers (225 miles) southeast of Caracas.

The state-run oil companies of Venezuela and Iran Petroleos de Venezuela SA and Petropars are jointly exploring an area of the Orinoco containing estimated reserves of 1.5 billion barrels of oil.

"The message from what occurred today is that revolutionary and independent peoples, with mutual help, are capable of providing for themselves," Ahmadinejad said through an interpreter. "Venezuela and Iran have shown that, together, beyond the reach of U.S. hegemony and imperialism, they can work and progress."

The two leaders were later flown in military helicopters to Ciudad Bolivar in eastern Venezuela, where they visited a joint-venture tractor-assembly factory and inspected the plant's assembly line, reports AP.

Monday's tours came a day after Venezuelan and Iranian officials signed a series of accords, including deals to develop oil fields, build factories to produce goods from gunpowder to cement and set up a US$2 billion (Ђ1.6 billion) investment fund for the projects.

Chavez and Ahmadinejad, both preparing to travel to New York for this week's U.N. General Assembly, accused Washington of trying to stifle the development of their nations while seeking to dominate international affairs.