Former Venezuelan president Chávez had developed strong ties with the government of Iran, in particular in the area of energy production, economic, and industrial cooperation. He has visited Iran on several occasions, the first time in 2001, when he declared that he came to Iran to "prepare the road for peace, justice, stability and progress for the 21st century". Mohamed Khatami also has visited Venezuela on three occasions. During his 2005 visit, Chávez awarded him the Orden del Libertador and called him a "tireless fighter for all the right causes in the world". In May 2006, Chávez expressed his favorable view of the production of nuclear energy in Iran announced by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and denied that they had plans to develop atomic weapons. His relationship with Iran and his support of their nuclear program has created concern for the US administration.
On March 16, 2007, Chavez said in a television interview that he disagreed with President Ahmadinejad's alleged call to "wipe Israel off the map" (which is a mistranslation) saying "I don't support causing harm to any nation.". (See also Israel-Venezuela relations.)
Chávez pledged that Venezuela would "stay by Iran at any time and under any condition." He said "We are with you and with Iran forever. As long as we remain united we will be able to defeat imperialism, but if we are divided they will push us aside".
Reuters reported that Chávez told a crowd at the University of Tehran, "If the U.S. succeeds in consolidating its dominance, then the humankind has no future. Therefore, we have to save the humankind and put an end to the U.S.". The reports adds that Chávez slashed out at Israel and labeled the 2006 Lebanon offensive as "fascist and terrorist."
At a time when Venezuela and Russia were working on nuclear cooperation, the Iranian Minister of Science, Research and Technology, Mohammad Mehdi Zahedi, headed a delegation to Caracas to hold talks with high-ranking officials in order to follow up on implementation of agreements which had been inked between the two countries in 2006. Additionally, two technical and educational committees for implementing Iran-Venezuela agreements were also set up. The Iranian delegation visited the Venezuelan Foundation for Seismological Research, Caracas Central University, Simon Bolivar University, and the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research. Beyond the political-military sphere the two countries also pledged to work together academically in the commissioning of a new university programme at the existing, tuition-free Bolivarian University, with a focus on teaching socialist principles and to promote discussion of "21st century socialism." The government of Venezuela said this followed with plans to establish the University of Civilizations under accords recently signed with Iran.
As of the end of 2008, Iran's beneficence to Venezuela had paid dividends in the form of an Iranian ammunition factory, a car assembly plant, a cement factory and even direct air service between Tehran, Damascus and Caracas courtesy of Iran Air, amongst others.
Trade between Venezuela and Iran grown steadily and the two countries have launched joint ventures in a number of sectors, including energy, agriculture, housing, and infrastructure (2008). The value of industrial development projects carried out by Iranian firms in Venezuela stands at around $4 billion (December 2008). Iran-Venezuela bilateral trade spiked, from less than $189,000 in 2001 to almost $57 million by the end of 2008.
Venezuela threat to sell F-16 fleet to Iran
In 2006, the Iranian media have published series of reports that suggested Venezuela was interested to sell its 21 F-16 Fighting Falcons to Iran. The rumours were confirmed, when a Hugo Chavez advisor told the Associated Press that: "Venezuela's military is considering selling its fleet of U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets to another country, possibly Iran, in response to a U.S. ban on arms sales to President Hugo Chavez's government". In response, Sean McCormack, the U.S. State Department spokesman, warned Venezuela and suggested: "Without the written consent of the United States, Venezuela can't transfer these defense articles, and in this case F-16s, to a third country".
Relations with other South American countries
Trade between Iran and Brazil quadrupled between 2002 and 2007, and it will further increase as much as fivefold, from $2 billion to $10 billion annually. In addition to Brazil, Iran has signed dozens of economic agreements with Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador and Nicaragua. In Nicaragua, Iran and Venezuela have agreed to invest $350 million in building a deepwater seaport off the Caribbean coast, in addition to a cross-country system of pipelines, rails and highways. Iranian firms are also planning to build two cement factories in Bolivia. Other developments include the agreement reached with Ecuador to build a cement factory as well as several other industrial cooperation MoUs (2008). In the four years after Ahmadinejad ascended to the Iranian presidency in 2005, Iran opened six new embassies in Latin America. The new embassies are located in Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Uruguay - in addition to the five already in operation in Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela.
"G-2 summit" and development bank
During the 2009 G-20 London summit, Chavez and Ahmadinejad held their own meeting which they called the "G-2" summit, at which the formation of a joint Iranian-Venezuelan development bank was announced, initially with US$200 million capital.
During a visit to Iran in 2010 by Hugo Chavez, he condemned "military attack threats against Iran by some countries. We know that they can never thwart the Islamic Revolution." He also said that as a result of such "great threats" it was necessary to "consolidate strategic alliances in political, economic, technological, energy and social areas." Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also supported the comments for a "strategic alliance;" he also added that "We are united and determined to end the current unjust which dominates the world and replace it with a new world order based on justice. Iran and Venezuela are united to establish a new world order based on humanity and justice. We believe that the only result of bullying movements of imperialism all around the world, and especially in Latin America, will be the fast decline of imperial power." The two countries also signed deals in areas such as oil, natural gas, textiles, trade and public housing.
U.S. Congress Examines Iranian Links
In early 2012, the U.S. Congress began to voice escalating concern over Iran's interests in Latin America, particularly its relations with Venezuela. On January 18, Representative Jeff Duncan (R - South Carolina) introduced the Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act of 2012. The bill called on the United States to use all elements of national power to counter Iran’s growing presence and hostile activity in the Western Hemisphere. Then, on February 2, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) convened a Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing on Iranian activity in the Western Hemisphere. Finally, on March 7, Duncan’s legislation concerning the Iranian government’s activities in the Western Hemisphere passed out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee with strong bipartisan support.
Following the hearings, a number of independent reports and position papers were released which appeared to legitimize the threat posed by Iranian activity in the Western Hemisphere. This included a major study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in March 2012. However, it was also suggested that partisan politics contributed to Republicans' interest in the topic.
The Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act of 2012 currently is before the House of Representatives for consideration. If passed into law by Congress, the bill will require the U.S. Secretary of State to submit to Congress a strategy to address Iran's growing presence and activity in the Western Hemisphere within 180 days of enactment.
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