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Backing Iran, Chavez accuses US of oil threats

Written by: Staff
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CARACAS, Venezuela, Mar 22 (Reuters) Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez stood by Iran in its nuclear energy dispute after he accused Washington of threatening Tehran over the OPEC nation's oil reserves.

Chavez spoke as the U.N Security Council failed to reach an agreement on how to respond to Iran's nuclear ambitions and the US government warned Tehran could blackmail the world if it managed to develop an atomic bomb.

The leftist Venezuelan leader, whose close ties to Cuba and Iran have riled Washington, has supported Iran's government while Western powers try to halt its atomic program because they fear Tehran is furtively building a nuclear weapon.

''The US imperialists invaded Iraq looking for oil and now they are threatening Iran for oil, not because the Iranians are developing some kind of nuclear bomb,'' Chavez said at the opening of a new electricity plant yesterday.

''That is a lie, there is no evidence of that. I am completely certain that it is false that the Iranian government is developing an atomic bomb.'' Venezuela, the world's No 5 oil exporter, and fellow OPEC member Iran have strengthened ties with scores of commerce and energy accords as Chavez seeks to break his country's traditional economic reliance on the United States.

Chavez has become one of Iran's staunchest defenders in its atomic dispute. Venezuela was one of the few countries to vote against an International Atomic Energy Agency resolution to send Iran to the UN Security Council over its atomic work.

Tehran dismisses US and European fears and says its program is for peaceful civilian uses.

Washington and Caracas are locked in a simmering diplomatic tussle as Chavez promotes his self-styled socialist revolution as an alternative to US policies. US officials accuse him of using Venezuela's oil wealth to destabilize the region.

REUTERS DH RAI0515

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