Chavez hosts Iran’s President Ahmadinejad


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.



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