Iran and Venezuela Vow to Fight 'U.S. Imperialism'

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has cultivated alliances worldwide in his eight years in office. Some of them, like Saddam Hussein, are none too palatable to the United States. On Saturday, one of the Bush administration's most bitter foes, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, arrived in the Venezuelan capital. It was the first stop in a tour of three nations that are ideologically united.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to Caracas, Venezuela, comes at a time of growing tensions between the Bush administration and Iran.

The Bush administration is accusing Iran of providing weapons and training to Shiite forces fighting American troops in Iraq. President Bush has vowed to respond against Tehran. The United States had already been trying to isolate Iran, saying it's using its nuclear program to build an atomic weapon.

In an increasingly hostile world for Tehran, Ahmadinejad is looking for friends in America's backyard.

In a speech today, Chavez welcomed Iranian president as a brother and fellow revolutionary.

Venezuela says the two countries are looking to embark on a range of economic and social accords. Both are OPEC heavyweights, so energy is central to their talks.

In Chavez, the Iranian president has a stalwart ally whose country, like Iran's, is oil rich. And he also has a leader who is ideologically opposed to the United States. So much so that in 2005, Venezuela was alone in opposing a resolution of the International Atomic Energy Agency that found Iran in violation of nuclear safeguards.

Alberto Garrido said politics outweighs economics in this relationship. He is an author who has written about Chavez's relations with Middle Eastern countries.

"There's a strategic alliance between Venezuela and Iran that is gaining momentum," Garrido says. "There's an intercontinental strategy whose base is to unite themselves against the United States. Remember, both see the United States as a fundamental enemy."

The United States welcomed a coup that ultimately failed against Chavez in 2002. The Venezuelan leader has not forgotten. Since then he has only grown stronger. And last month, he won a new six-year term in a landslide.

Now he is promising to nationalize companies to accelerate his so-called Bolivarian revolution. A major strategy is reaching out to leaders like Ahmadinejad. Chavez greeted the Iranian delegation in a ceremony outside the presidential palace where the national anthems of both countries were played.

Michael Penfold, a political scientist in Caracas, said the visit to Venezuela and its allies is central to Chavez's foreign policy.

"He's trying to build a coalition of different countries that sort of have an anti-American position," Penfold says. "This lining up with Iran is sort of consistent with what his foreign policy is."

Venezuela and Iran are already assembling tractors. And the two countries are planning a car plant and other projects. Robert Bottome is the editor of the business magazine, VenEconomia. He says the pacts the two countries have don't make much sense for Venezuela.

"What does Iran have that Venezuela lacks: Is it steel, is it energy, is it know-how?" Bottome says. "There is no real complementary between the two countries."

Ahmadinejad is scheduled to meet Sunday in Nicaragua with Daniel Ortega, the former guerrilla chief who was a Cold War nemesis of the United States and a close friend of the Venezuelan leader.

On Monday, Ahmadinejad travels to Ecuador for the inauguration of another leftist, Rafael Correa. He will also meet with Bolivia's president, Evo Morales, another Chavez ally.

Chavez still says he wants better relations with Washington. But there are those who don't see a rosy future with the friends he's keeping.

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