Ahmadinejad visits Venezuela after drone sale
Published Saturday, June 23, 2012
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez hosted Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to ink a series of deals, just a week after boasting about collaboration with Tehran on a drone project.
Chavez, who has been battling cancer for more than a year and faces a tough re-election contest in October, has expressed "solidarity" with key ally Iran as it faces growing pressure over its suspect nuclear program.
The two leaders, who share a common hostility towards the global dominance of the United States, were scheduled to hold a joint press conference at Chavez's Miraflores presidential palace.
Chavez said he planned to ink bilateral cooperation deals with Ahmadinejad on a wide range of areas, from housing to technology.
Iran and Venezuela also engage in military cooperation. Chavez announced last week that, with Iranian help, he had made his first drone and planned to soon begin exporting the unmanned aircraft.
A Venezuelan general said the drone, which "does not carry arms," has a 100-kilometer sweep, can fly solo for some 90 minutes and reach an altitude of 3,000 meters.
The United States – which has controversially waged drone strikes remotely in Pakistan and Yemen – expressed caution about Chavez's announcement.
"The Venezuelans make lots of extravagant claims. So do the Iranians," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington.
Iran and Venezuela have mutual investment of about $5 billion in factories to make cement, satellites, food, tractors and bicycles.
Under escalating pressure from the West over its nuclear activities, Iran has sought closer political and economic relations with countries far and wide, including many in Latin America.
Chavez has visited Tehran 13 times since taking power in 1999.