Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Iran open to helping Venezuela nuclear program

Iran is open to helping Venezuela develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, but the two OPEC members have not yet held talks about such cooperation, an Iranian lawmaker said on Wednesday.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, an ardent critic of the U.S. government, is backing Iran's right to develop nuclear fuel despite international community opposition to Tehran pursuing its atomic program.

"Although we have not had any conversations until now with Venezuelan authorities, we would be willing to study the possibility," Iran's parliament speaker, Gholamali Haddadadel, said when asked by reporters in Caracas whether Tehran could offer cooperation to Venezuela. READ MORE

Venezuela, the world's No. 5 oil exporter, last year said it was interested in developing nuclear technology with the possible help of Argentina, Brazil or Iran for civilian energy and medical purposes.

Venezuela had a small research reactor that was closed more than a decade ago and is now used for food irradiation and sterilization. Experts say nuclear development could take Venezuela as long as 10 years of investment and training.

The Iranian delegation visiting Venezuela to boost ties between the two nations signed a joint statement ratifying "the right of all nations to make peaceful use nuclear energy" and condemned the "imperialism" of foreign powers.

Iran on Tuesday confirmed that it had restarted uranium enrichment that it insists will only be used for peaceful civilian purposes despite U.S. and European fears that the technology would be used to create nuclear weapons.

Venezuela joined Syria and Cuba this month at the International Atomic Energy Agency in opposing the U.N. watchdog's decision to send the Iran nuclear energy dispute to the U.N. Security Council, which could impose sanctions.

Chavez's growing ties to Iran have only made Washington more wary of the former army colonel turned populist president, whom the U.S. accuses of using the nation's oil wealth to destabilize democracy in the region.

The Venezuelan leader counters that the United States is meddling in democracies in the region, and accuses the U.S. State Department of sponsoring a brief coup against him in 2002. He has promised a socialist revolution to end poverty and promote the integration of Latin American nations.