November 20, 2007
Venezuela's outspoken president joined with Iran's leader Monday in boasting that they are "united like a single fist" in challenging American influence, saying the fall of the dollar is a sign that "the U.S. empire is coming down."
Hugo Chavez also joked about the most serious issue the U.S. is confronting regarding Iran - nuclear weapons - during his get-together with Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The visit came after a failed attempt by the firebrand duo to move OPEC away from pricing its oil in dollars.
OPEC's weekend summit displayed the limits of their alliance - their proposal was overruled by other members, led by Saudi Arabia - but it also showed their potential for stirring up problems for the U.S. and its allies.
Making his fourth trip to Tehran in two years, Chavez has built a strong bond with Ahmadinejad that has produced a string of business agreements as well as a torrent of rhetoric presenting their two countries as an example of how smaller nations can stand up to the U.S.
"Here are two brother countries, united like a single fist," Chavez said upon his arrival in Tehran, according to Venezuela's state-run Bolivarian News Agency.
"God willing, with the fall of the dollar, the deviant U.S. imperialism will fall as soon as possible, too," Chavez said after a two-hour closed meeting with Ahmadinejad, the Iranian state news agency IRNA reported.
As the dollar weakens, oil prices have soared toward $100 a barrel. Chavez said at the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries' meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that prices would more than double to $200 if the U.S. attacked Iran or Venezuela.
"The U.S. empire is coming down," he told Venezuelan state television, calling the European Union's euro a better option and saying Latin American nations were also considering a common currency.
The leftist leader is a harsh critic of President Bush, while Iran's Islamic government is in a bitter standoff with Washington over Tehran's nuclear program. The U.S. accuses Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, a claim Tehran denies, and Iran has been hit with two rounds of U.N. sanctions for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment.
Although it's a sensitive issue for his ally, Chavez joked about acquiring his own atomic bombs, apparently seeking to poke fun at the U.S. accusation that Iran is using its nuclear program as a cover to develop nuclear weapons.
According to a Venezuelan state TV report, when a reporter asked about the aims of his visit, Chavez quipped: "As the imperialist press says, I came to look for an atomic bomb, and I've got it here. If anyone should cross me, I'll fire it."
Ahmadinejad did not appear to offer any reaction to the joke when he spoke later.
Chavez has strongly supported Iran's right to have a civilian nuclear program, backing the position of Tehran that its atomic activities are intended solely for the peaceful production of electricity.
"We demand respect for the sovereignty of Iran," Chavez told Venezuelan TV when he arrived for his hours-long visit. "Iran has a right to have nuclear energy for peaceful uses."
Chavez has recently said that Venezuela also aims to start a peaceful nuclear energy program.
Ahmadinejad backed his "dear brother" Chavez in their joint fight with the Bush administration.
"We have common viewpoints and we will stand by each other until we capture the high peaks. God is with us and victory is awaiting us," he was quoted as saying by IRNA.
During the OPEC meeting, Iran and Venezuela proposed that the cartel begin setting its oil prices based on a basket of currencies, rather than just the dollar, and they wanted the summit to specifically express concern over the dollar's slide in its final statement.
U.S. ally Saudi Arabia blocked the move, with its foreign minister cautioning that even talking publicly about the currency's decline could further hurt its value. But in an apparent compromise, OPEC leaders agreed to study the idea of setting oil prices in dollars.
In Tehran, Chavez and Ahmadinejad signed four memorandums of understanding Monday to create a joint bank, a fund, an oil industry technical training program and an industrial agreement, Iranian state television said. It said Chavez then left after an official farewell ceremony.
On Chavez's visit in July, the two leaders broke ground for a joint petrochemical complex in Iran, with 51 percent in Iranian ownership and 49 percent owned by Venezuela. The two nations also began construction of a petrochemical complex in Venezuela, at a total combined cost of $1.4 billion.
Since 2001, the two countries have signed more than 180 trade agreements, worth more than $20 billion in potential investment, according to official reports.
Iran has partnered with Venezuela on several industrial projects in the South American nation, including the production of cars, tractors and plastic goods.
Associated Press writer Ian James in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.