- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 2, 2005

President Bush begins several weeks of almost constant foreign travel today, heading to South America as the White House tries to discourage Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s nuclear ambitions.

“It would be problematic for Chavez to be in the nuclear business,” National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley said yesterday. “We want to make sure that nuclear power is handled in a responsible way and does not contribute to concerns about proliferation and, ultimately, nuclear weapons.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Bush expressed skepticism about Mr. Chavez’s request for the Argentine government to build a nuclear power plant in Venezuela. He questioned why Venezuela, which is awash in oil, would need nuclear power.

“If I were a taxpayer in Venezuela, I would wonder about the energy supply that Venezuela has,” the president told foreign reporters in advance of today’s trip to Argentina.

Mr. Bush suggested that spent fuel rods from any plant that is built be collected by an international agency to prevent Venezuela from using the material to develop nuclear weapons. He has called for the same arrangement in Iran, where Russia would deliver nuclear fuel and then collect the spent rods.

“There must be total transparency,” the president said. “I have proposed that we think of an international concept of sharing highly enriched uranium necessary for the running of a nuclear power plant — for power — with countries, and collecting that material and disposing of it in a reasonable and a sound way.”

Mr. Hadley expressed doubt that Mr. Chavez would succeed.

“He’s raised the issue of the nuclear reactor in a number of different forums and with a number of different countries,” he said. “So far, he hasn’t done very well in terms of getting any takers.”

Mr. Chavez opposes Mr. Bush’s plan for a free-trade zone encompassing the entire Western Hemisphere, except for Cuba, and has vowed to give the plan its “final burial” when Mr. Bush arrives in Argentina today for the Summit of the Americas.

Mr. Bush acknowledged his plan has stalled, but insisted it would help lift millions out of poverty.

“Grants and loans pale in comparison to the amount of good that can be done as commerce develops at all levels of government, at all levels of society, as a result of trade,” he said.

After the summit, the president and first lady Laura Bush will travel to Brazil and Panama.

“The president and Mrs. Bush will tour the Miraflores Locks, the first set of locks on the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal,” Mr. Hadley said. “Prior to departure, the president will join Panamanian youths to talk a little baseball.”

The president will return to the White House Monday, but will spend less than a week in Washington before departing on a lengthy tour of Asia, including China, Korea, Japan and Mongolia.

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