- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2006

Venezuela outraged

The ambassador from Venezuela angrily charged that the United States is trying to “delegitimize and undermine” his country by accusing it of failing to cooperate in the war on terrorism.

Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez said he “was not surprised” by the State Department’s announcement last week that Washington will ban future arms sales to his government, but he denounced accusations that President Hugo Chavez is guilty of aiding terrorist groups and rogue nations.

“The extreme nature of these false allegations indicates that Washington is continuing its long campaign to delegitimize and undermine my country’s democratic government,” he said.

Under Mr. Chavez, Venezuela has been accused of widespread human rights violations, including threats against free speech and the independent press, prosecution of political opponents, police torture and the politicization of the courts. Mr. Chavez has established close relations with Cuba and Iran and has accused President Bush of plotting to overthrow him.

Human Rights Watch denounced Mr. Chavez for taking “steps to undermine the independence of the country’s judiciary by packing the Supreme Court,” for enacting legislation that “seriously threatens press freedom” and for prosecuting critics on “highly dubious charges.”

The State Department’s latest terrorism report cites Mr. Chavez’s “ideological sympathy” for Marxist rebel groups in neighboring Colombia. The report said he has provided the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the National Liberation Army safe haven inside the Venezuelan border for “rest and resupply.”

Mr. Alvarez denied that his government has any links to the rebel groups and defended contacts with Cuba and Iran.

“Bush administration officials feebly attempted to link President Chavez to terrorist groups and acts, though they have failed to provide any evidence to substantiate such claims,” he said.

“They also claim that Venezuela’s friendly relations with Iran and Cuba constitute an ‘intelligence-sharing relationship’ that threatens U.S. security. This is nonsense. Venezuela, like many other countries, maintains relations with Iran and Cuba based on specific interests: oil with Iran, social programs with Cuba.”

Venezuela is one of the world’s leading producers of oil and a major supplier of energy to the United States.

The ambassador also accused the Bush administration of hypocrisy in the war on terrorism for failing to extradite Luis Posada, a Venezuelan wanted on charges of planning the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner.

“The war on terror cannot be fought a la carte,” Mr. Alvarez said.

Saudi leadership

Saudi Arabia is providing leadership around the world as the center for Islam, a major oil producer and an ally in the war on terrorism, the Saudi ambassador told an audience at George Washington University.

“The issues we face today are very complex,” Prince Turki al-Faisal said in his speech Friday. “Political strife exists in so many places around the world: Darfur, Sierra Leone, the Balkans, East Timor and in many places in the Middle East.

“As we all know too well, the stability or security of a nation or people far away can impact us all significantly at home. We need to encourage peace and tolerance.”

He said Saudi Arabia must “shoulder a responsibility of moral leadership” as the birthplace of Islam. It has a global economic responsibility to promote growth and stability in the Middle East and cooperate in the eradication of “the men, the money and mind-set that supports terror,” he added.

Prince Turki also noted that Saudi King Abdullah has proposed a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would require Israel to return to its 1967 borders and for all Arab nations to recognize the Jewish state.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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