Nov 25 Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in Venezuela on Wednesday for meetings with friend and ally President Hugo Chavez on a trip intended to cement growing political and business ties between the two oil-exporting nations.
Both fiery anti-U.S. ideologues, Ahmadinejad and Chavez were expected to sign new industrial, energy and technology deals despite opposition protests. [ID:nN24318467]
The Iranian leader arrived on Tuesday night at the end of a three-nation Latin America tour that also included Brazil and Bolivia.
Following are some facts about Venezuela-Iran ties.
* GEOPOLITICS: Ahmadinejad and Chavez both aim to weaken U.S. "imperialism" and boost other centers of global power. U.S. officials have expressed concerns about Iran's growing influence in Latin America, especially in Venezuela. Tehran has increased its presence in the region, promising to build houses, dairies and vehicle factories. It receives diplomatic support for its nuclear program in return.
Some in Washington fear the cooperation goes deeper and that Venezuela might help Iran build nuclear weapons, a charge both countries deny.
* NUCLEAR: Like some other Latin American leaders, Venezuela supports Iran's nuclear program, which it says is for peaceful purposes. Chavez would also like to develop nuclear power but insists he is opposed to atomic weapons. Iran is helping Venezuela map its uranium deposits, although Venezuela does not yet mine the mineral.
* OIL: Venezuela and Iran are allies within the OPEC oil alliance. This year they agreed to invest $760 million in each other's energy sectors. Venezuela also pledged to export 20,000 barrels of gasoline per day to Iran to a total value of $800 million. The gasoline deal would help Iran if Western powers impose sanctions on fuel imports due to its nuclear program. Iran's national oil company Petropars is exploring a block in Venezuela, which in turn has vowed to work in Iran's fields.
* FINANCE: Venezuela and Iran are both critics of global financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. This year they set up a joint development bank with starting capital of $200 million.
In 2008, the U.S. Treasury Department put sanctions on the subsidiary of an Iranian bank operating in Venezuela. Washington says the bank helps Iran sidestep sanctions and channels money to weapons programs. Both Iran and Venezuela deny the charge.
Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said in September he was investigating several banks in Venezuela for aiding Iran dodge sanctions.
* ISRAEL: Chavez is very popular in the Muslim world. partly for his strident opposition to Israeli foreign policy. He calls Israel a "genocidal state" for its military action in civilian areas in Palestine and for the Lebanon war, but does not back Ahmadinejad's claim the Holocaust is a "deception."
* DEFENSE: Iran's defense minister visited Venezuela this year, the first such visit since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The two countries' armed forces said a deal between them included cooperation on training, but did not give details.
* INDUSTRY: Venezuelan imports from Iran were worth $73 million in 2008, with exports of just $700,000. The two countries have signed dozens of business deals that on paper are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Iran has built housing complexes in Venezuela and also has built cars, but labor and financial problems have delayed output at vehicle factories.
(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Will Dunham) ((firstname.lastname@example.org; +58 212 277 2656; Reuters Messaging: email@example.com))