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US seeks to sway Russia on jet sales to Venezuela

Written by: Staff

CARACAS, Venezuela, June 17 (Reuters) The United States has said it will ask Russia to reconsider selling two dozen fighter jets to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez after Washington banned all U.S.

arms sales to Caracas.

The US government, which calls Chavez an autocrat threatening regional stability, has already opposed Spanish and Brazilian aircraft and warship sales to Venezuela, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter and a key US crude supplier.

Chavez, a former soldier who says he is battling US influence in Latin America, said on Wednesday he will buy 24 Sukhoi 30 fighters to replace his government's US-made F-16 jets after charging Washington blocked sales of spare parts.

''We'll certainly be in touch with the Russian government, who would be the potential source providers for those fighter aircraft,'' US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters in Washington yesterday.

''I think we will ask them to take another look at any potential sales they have, given what Venezuela's real defensive needs are,'' he said.

Chavez, who accuses the United States of plotting to oust him, has ordered soldiers and reservists to train to resist US troops. Washington dismisses his invasion talk as nationalist banter meant to stir up his poor supporters before December's elections.

Chavez, first elected in 1998, says the arms sales are needed to replace aging equipment and beef up anti-narcotics operations and frontier patrols.

Last month Washington banned sales of US-made weaponry to Caracas, citing worries over Chavez's close alliance with long-time US foes Havana and Tehran and what officials said was his failure to work against Marxist FARC rebels from neighboring Colombia.

Venezuela has already purchased 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles and Russian-made attack and transport helicopters. With Russian help, Venezuela also plans to build a Kalashnikov rifle and ammunition factory near Caracas.

''They have already purchased 100,000 AK103 assault rifles from Russia. So I'm not quite sure what else they might need a factory for,'' McCormack said. ''It certainly raises questions about what their intentions are.'' REUTERS DH RAI0540

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