Venezuela tightens Iran links with trade pacts

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Hugo Chávez’s efforts to build an anti-US coalition received a boost on Monday following a visit by Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, Iran’s president, to Venezuela and the signing of trade agreements between the two countries.

The two presidents are due to arrive in New York on Tuesday, where both are expected to address the UN General Assembly.

Mr Chávez has been lobbying intensively to win a two-year term on the Security Council. Next month’s vote on the seat, which will pit Venezuela against US-backed Guatemala, will be a “thermometer reading of how anti-US the member nations of the UN are”, according to Alberto Garrido, a political analyst.

Mr Chávez, who supports Iran’s nuclear programme, reiterated with Mr Ahmadi-Nejad their opposition to “US imperialism” and their support for a “multipolar” world order, free of the hegemony of what Mr Ahmadi-Nejad called “the tyrants of the world – above all, the Americans”.

The two leaders signed 29 bilateral agreements in areas as diverse as petrochemicals, health, mining and agriculture.

In a series of international tours this year, the Venezuelan leader has secured support for his Security Council seat candidacy from much of Latin America and Africa, along with Russia, China and a large part of the Muslim world.

However, doubts remain as to whether he will obtain the required two-thirds of votes on the first ballot, not least because voting is secret. “Some governments may not be telling the truth,” said a European diplomat, “especially among the small Caribbean nations.”

Failure to win outright could lead to a protracted series of inconclusive votes, and possibly the emergence of a compromise candidate.

Venezuela, along with Cuba and Syria, voted in the International Atomic Energy Authority against the referral of Iran’s nuclear programme to the Security Council this year.

Mr Chávez has also raised the possibility of collaboration between Iran and Venezuela in the nuclear field, and has vowed to stand with both Iran and Cuba under any circumstances. At last week’s meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Havana, he reiterated this stance. “We will accompany Iran as we will accompany Cuba,” he said. “If the United States were to invade Cuba, Venezuelan blood would flow.”

More than the flow of blood, it is the flow of oil that has Washington worried. Between them, Iran and Venezuela produce almost 7m barrels a day, and both have threatened a boycott in the event of US aggression.

■The US on Monday criticised Venezuela and Burma for doing too little to fight the drug trade but decided not to cut off aid to Caracas, a big oil supplier, Reuters reports from Washington.

Venezuela, the world's fifth largest oil exporter, was given a waiver allowing it to avoid some US aid cuts that would be triggered by the US determination that it “failed demonstrably” to live up to international commitments to fight the drug trade.

The White House also said it remained concerned about Bolivia's work against drugs, saying it had pursued policies “that have allowed the expansion of coca cultivation and have significantly curtailed eradication”.

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