- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Hugo Chavez’s South American neighbors were taken aback by the Venezuelan president’s suggestion over the weekend that they work jointly with Iran to develop a nuclear power capacity.

Brazil moved quickly to quash the idea, saying it was open to cooperation with Venezuela, but wanted no part of any deal involving Iran.

The Tehran government is already facing intense pressure from the United States and its European allies, who suspect Iran’s nuclear energy program is a front for the development of a nuclear weapon.

Mr. Chavez, who is given to needling the United States and making other provocative comments during a weekly TV program, said after a meeting with Iranian company officials on Sunday that he was interested in pursuing a partnership for atomic and solar energy projects.

“We are interested and should begin working in the nuclear field with Brazil, Argentina and other countries,” said Mr. Chavez, who asserted that Iran has no nuclear weapons ambitions.

“We want to initiate nuclear research and ask for help from countries like Iran,” he said.

Brazilian Vice President Jose Alencar responded Monday, saying his country had agreements with Argentina, France and the United States to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but “there is no agreement with Iran or Venezuela.”

Speaking separately, Brazilian Science and Technology Minister Eduardo Campos said Brazil was “already cooperating with Venezuela in other areas and would evaluate such a request if it were made.”

But he emphasized that Brazil was not interested in any association with Iran. He said Brazil wanted to develop a nuclear program in strict compliance with international agreements and would not cooperate with any country that did not sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Venezuela, with 75 percent its domestic energy needs supplied by state-owned hydroelectric power plants, is the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter and a key supplier to the United States.

Relations between the United States and Venezuela have steadily deteriorated since Mr. Chavez took office more than six years ago.

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