Luke Harding / The Guardian – 2007-06-28 23:29:54
MOSCOW (June 29, 2007) — President Hugo Chávez yesterday hinted that Venezuela could try to become a nuclear power, during a visit to Russia apparently timed to antagonise the White House.
Mr Chávez defended Iran’s right to pursue a nuclear programme and said it might be a good idea if Venezuela eventually did the same thing. Speaking before an audience of communists and other elements hostile to America, Mr Chávez said: “Iran has a right to have a peaceful atomic energy industry, as it is a sovereign country.
“The Brazilian president has declared his atomic energy initiatives, and Brazil has a right to do that as well. Who knows, maybe Venezuela will ultimately follow suit.” Mr Chávez said he wanted a “multi-polar world in which “real freedom” was possible as opposed to “American freedom”, which he characterised as the right to “threaten other nations and destroy cities”.
The Venezuelan leader is on a trip that also includes two other US antagonists, Belarus and Iran. His visit to Moscow comes hours before a meeting in the US between Vladimir Putin and George Bush. The two are holding informal talks on Sunday and Monday at the Bush family estate in Kennebunkport, Maine, with deep divisions over the US’s proposed missile shield in central Europe, the future of Kosovo and US concerns over Russia’s resurgent authoritarianism under Mr Putin.
Kremlin officials yesterday said it was a coincidence that Mr Putin was holding talks with Mr Chávez tomorrow and Mr Bush on Sunday.
But the newspaper Vedomosti suggested the visits were designed to demonstrate Russia’s independence. Others suggested it was Mr Chávez who was making the running. “The timing wasn’t initiated by Russia,” said Viktor Semyonov, an economist at Moscow’s Institute of Latin American Studies. “It all comes from Chávez.
“It’s more about money than politics; Chávez is supporting Russia’s rapidly increasing economic presence in Venezuela.”
During his three-day visit to Russia, Mr Chávez is expected to buy more military hardware, including as many as five submarines. He will also tour a helicopter factory and hold talks with Mr Putin tomorrow in Rostov-on-Don.
Last year Mr Chávez spent $3bn (£1.5bn) on Russian arms. But yesterday he said: “We don’t want war. We want peace. There were rumours we came here to buy weapons. This is not the priority of my visit … The priority is cultural interaction and the exchange of ideas.”
But he also boasted of Venezuela’s Russian Sukhoi jets: “When they appeared in the sky over Caracas during a parade on independence day two years ago, then we broke the fetters of dependence on the US.”
In Belarus, Mr Chávez may also discuss a new air defence system, after saying this week that Venezuela’s current system was insufficient. He will then go to Tehran for talks aimed at further deepening ties with Iran.
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