CARACAS, Venezuela (AFP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez hosted Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday to ink a series of deals, just a week after boasting about collaboration with Tehran on a drone project.
Chavez, who has been battling cancer for more than a year and faces a tough re-election contest in October, has expressed “solidarity” with key ally Iran as it faces growing pressure over its suspect nuclear programme.
The two firebrand leaders, who share a common hostility towards the US, were scheduled to hold a joint press conference at Chavez’s Miraflores presidential palace at 4:00 pm.
Chavez said he planned to ink bilateral cooperation deals with Ahmadinejad on a wide range of areas, from housing to technology.
Iran and Venezuela also engage in military cooperation. Chavez raised hackles last week when he announced that, with Iranian help, he had made his first drone and planned to soon begin exporting the unmanned aircraft.
A Venezuelan general said the drone, which “does not carry arms,” has a 100-kilometre (60 mile) sweep, can fly solo for some 90 minutes and reach an altitude of 9,000 feet.
The US — which has controversially waged drone strikes remotely against suspected militants in Pakistan and Yemen — expressed caution about Chavez’s announcement.
“The Venezuelans make lots of extravagant claims. So do the Iranians,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington.
Iran and Venezuela have mutual investment of about US$5 billion in factories to make cement, satellites, food, tractors and bicycles.
Under escalating pressure from the West over its nuclear activities, Iran has sought closer political and economic relations with countries far and wide, including many in Latin America.
En route to Brazil for the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development the Iranian leader stopped in Bolivia to court support from another leftist Latin American nation that has tense ties with the US.
Chavez has visited Tehran 13 times since taking power in 1999.
He is hoping for a third term in October 7 elections, but his health is a major concern and he faces a strong challenge from a sometimes fractious opposition that has now united behind centre-left rival Henrique Capriles.