Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ahmadinejad's Visit with Chavez Likely to Sour US-Venezuela Relations

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ahmadinejad's Visit with Chavez Likely to Sour US-Venezuela Relations

Article excerpt

Hugo Chavez and his Iranian counterpart share a history of anti- US vitriol. This visit, Ahmadinejad's first since the US sanctioned Venezuela over trade with Iran, will likely add fuel to the fire.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is set Saturday to host his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in a state visit likely to further sour relations between Venezuela and the United States.

President Ahmadinejad's visit is his first since the US slapped sanctions on Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, due to its ongoing trade with Iran. And the trip comes immediately after he sparked a walk-out at New York's UN General Assembly meeting on Thursday when he called the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks "mysterious" and a pretext for the US to invade Afghanistan and Iraq.

Mr. Chavez himself is no stranger to controversy in the UN's New York auditorium. In his 2006 speech at the Assembly, Chavez stood at the lectern the day after former US President George W. Bush had, and said, "The devil came here yesterday," while theatrically sniffing the air. "It smells of sulfur still." Chavez then made the sign of the cross before clasping his hands in prayer and looking to the roof of the auditorium. The Venezuelan leader went on to describe Bush's "domination, exploitation, and pillage of the peoples of the world."

Recent leaks of cables by whistle-blowing organization WikiLeaks reveal growing frustration in Washington with Chavez's anti-US rhetoric in recent years. One cable describes Chavez's repeated "vitriol" against President Barack Obama, in one instance cursing at him on national television.

Chavez was unable to attend this week's General Assembly meeting, as he underwent his fourth round of chemotherapy in Cuba. He arrived back in Caracas just before midnight on Thursday. "Successful results, satisfactory results, all the vital signals," he said, speaking to cameras on the tarmac of Caracas' main airport. "We have finished the chemotherapy cycle." He can now begin preparation for presidential elections due on Oct. 7, 2012.

Venezuelan authorities have been keen to at least show a facade of willing friendship to the US, though always with a dig. Authorities in Caracas announced on Thursday that Chavez had played a key role in the release of two US hostages held in Iran, having been caught hiking on the border in 2009 and accused by Iran of spying. …

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