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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Iran

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Chavez in Iran

October 19, 2010 - 3:03 PM | by: Amy Kellogg

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez met with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran today—it’s his ninth visit to the Iranian capital.  He’s been known to call it a home away from home.
For Iran, the hospitality pays off.

Gala Riani of IHS Global Insight in London, “On the Iranian side it is to show the US that we can be friends with these countries are right at your doorstep.  We can be friends and gain their support not only for diplomacy but for controversial programs like the nuclear program. Similarly, for a leader like Chavez it is a way to reiterate that they have an independent policy focus.”

Ahmadinejad thanked Chavez for denouncing the sanctions against Iran and talked about expanding bilateral relations.

Former Iranian diplomat Mehrdad Khonsari said,

“That is a deliberate act by Chavez to indicate to the international community that Venezuela will not allow Iran to be manipulated by the US or US inspired pressures such as placing Iran under gasoline sanctions.”

The US and Europe slapped harsh sanctions on countries that sell gasoline to Iran.

Though oil rich, Iran can’t refine enough petroleum to fill its engines.  It gets some gasoline from Venezuela, but by most accounts not enough to make a real difference.

Said Gala Riani, “if we look at what it is that Iran really needs in the face of its isolation. It needs technological support,  access to international finance, it really is the know how, and technology to develop its key sector which is oil and gas that over the past couple of decades really suffer a great deal. And in those terms a country like Venezuela is the best partner. And there are limitations to what Venezuela can do. Nevertheless, as Iran’s isolation increases, it will in some ways get more desperate and it will keep those friends that it has very close and try to source whatever it can from them.”

Iran is also looking for Venezuelan investment in the South Pars gas field in Iran, which many western countries have pulled out of.

Mehrdad Khonsari says,

“The fact that there may be some capabilities in Venezuela which might be of help, but for Venezuela to replace major, you might say, oil concerns or gas concerns in the arena and to be able to match what the Qataris are doing on their side is highly unlikely.”

After Chavez sealed a deal in Moscow Friday to get a nuclear power plant from the Russians, proliferation experts worry that Iran may help Venezuela with enrichment technology which could be used for weapons.
Chavez insists his new power plant will be for peaceful purposes.

But there have also been reports that Iran is helping Venezuela mine uranium reserves.

Riani says, “there have been reports over the past couple years that Iran is engaging increasingly not only in Venezuela but in other countries Bolivia being one, increasingly helping these countries map their mineral sources, with rumors being that Iran is looking to source uranium from these countries.  It seems that that the rumors coming from there are very credible.  Of course each side is going to deny that there is any trade in uranium or that the Latin American countries in question are assisting Iran in getting hold of uranium.”

The meeting was about more than business opportunities in the climate of sanctions.

Iran has been expanding its influence in Latin America–there have even been allegations that Iranian backed Hezbollah has a presence in Venezuela, at least in a fund raising capacity.

Gala Riani says, “It is difficult to verify that Venezuela and other Latin American countries are supporting Hezbollah as has been alleged by the United States and others but there is something in the kind of support that Chavez has given to clandestine groups and has given to groups that are resisting the status quo, resisting oppression and so on, which gives some credibility to those allegations.”

It has been said that Iran’s last President, Mohammad Khatami, was interested in improving relations with its neighbors and with the West, while Ahmadinejad is trying to position Iran as a global superpower.  He’s opened up six embassies in Latin America since taking office.  Chavez is a powerful ally for Iran.

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