Chávez cautious on prospects for US-Iran war

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Hugo Chávez on Monday stopped short of saying Venezuela would cut off oil to the US if it attacked Iran – but declined to predict what he would do if that happened.

“We don’t want to suspend oil exports to anywhere and we’ve never done that . . . but I can’t answer if Venezuela would suspend oil to the US if there was a war with Iran,” President Chávez said in London. Iran is the second largest oil producer in Opec, and Venezuela produces similar volumes to the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, in joint third place.

Mr Chávez said any attack on Iran would cause a sharp rise in oil prices, but he said there was no reason to do it. “I’m quite convinced that Iran is not creating a nuclear bomb,” he said.

He believed in international law, that no country should prevent any other from acquiring nuclear energy, and that Iranians wanted only peace. Unfortunately, he said, a nuclear energy programme was stopped in Venezuela 40 years ago.

Mr Chávez wound up the rhetoric against President George W. Bush, whom he called “an assassin . . . responsible for genocide” and “the worst criminal in humanity”.

“I believe he should be put in jail,” he said. Later, Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, told the Venezuelan leader his views on Mr Bush “were sometimes not too dissimilar from yours”.

Mr Chávez said he was insulted by a comparison suggesting he was interfering in elections in other Latin American countries, such as Peru or Bolivia, just as he accused Mr Bush of meddling in other countries’ affairs. “Have we invaded a country? Are we bombing cities? Are we killing presidents?” he asked.

He said he had rightwing friends, including the president of neighbouring Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, who had invited US troops into his country. But he said that in forthcoming elections in Peru and Mexico, “I certainly hope that the move to the left will be strengthened”.

He described a plan, loosely modelled on the European Coal and Steel Community, a precursor of the European Union, which would use energy as the basis for regional unity. It would use Venezuela’s vast reserves of oil and gas to create a pipeline from Tierra del Fuego in the south to the Caribbean that would supply energy to the region for 150 years. “This is our plan for social freedom to help end poverty, for sustainable development.”

Mr Chávez’s visit to London is described as private. He met trade unionists and some Labour MPs but did not meet Tony Blair, the prime minister.

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