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Tuesday May 24, 2005

Is Venezuela going nuclear? Conversations with Iran give cause for concern

The most prominent development in U.S.-Venezuelan relations these days involves the case of Luis Posada Carriles and whether he should be extradited from the United States to Venezuela. There he would stand trial for a third time for his alleged involvement in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner. Meanwhile, a story with the potential to be much more important is being ignored: The growing power and global ambitions of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez.

Hugo Chavez with Khatami. The mutual aficionado has something more than meets the eye.

During a private meeting between Chavez and Khatami, Chavez made it known to the Iranian leader that he would like to "introduce nuclear elements into Venezuela." It will be easy for many to dismiss such talk as false or the fantasies of a madman, but that would be a critical mistake. Chavez is mentally disturbed, and there is no reason to doubt that his hatred of the United States and President Bush in particular is dictating his erratic behavior. High oil prices have made Chavez an antagonist to be reckoned with, and we ignore such a menace at our peril.

US News

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To the miniscule number of people who understand the threat Chavez poses to the United States, his recent hosting in Caracas of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami was disturbing enough. But a high-ranking official for a Latin American government has disclosed details about that visit that should send shock waves throughout our government.

This official quoted that during a private meeting between Chavez and Khatami, Chavez made it known to the Iranian leader that he would like to "introduce nuclear elements into Venezuela."

It will be easy for many to dismiss such talk as false or the fantasies of a madman, but that would be a critical mistake. Chavez is mentally disturbed, and there is no reason to doubt that his hatred of the United States and President Bush in particular is dictating his erratic behavior. High oil prices have made Chavez an antagonist to be reckoned with, and we ignore such a menace at our peril.

Standing side by side with Khatami in Caracas, Chavez said, "Iran has every right to develop atomic energy and to continue research in that area. ... Faced with the threat of the U.S. government against our brother people in Iran, count on us for all our support."

After receiving the report that Chavez might be trying to acquire nuclear technology or weapons from Iran, According to a high-ranking U.S. official " Chavez is dangerous, underestimated and capable of almost anything. We are hearing a number of curious and disturbing reports. He is actively working to recruit terrorist nations and developing countries into his campaign of hatred against the United States."

Toward that end, Chavez recently went on al-Jazeera television to call for Arab and developing nations to unite against the United States and President Bush. Terrorists use this network as a tool against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq, and Chavez told its viewers, "We have already invaded the United States, but with our oil."

Coupled with the disturbing news that Chavez might be trying to acquire nuclear weapons is the fact that Chavez, a dictator in all but formal title, just concluded a deal with the People's Republic of China to launch a telecommunications satellite for him. So great is Chavez' interest in rockets, space and missiles that the government of Venezuela has created a special commission to advise him on such issues. Chavez with a nuclear weapon is bad enough. Chavez with a medium-range ballistic missile just minutes from the southern United States is a disaster waiting to happen. So Chavez poses a greater threat to our national security than Osama bin Laden or any terrorist operating out of the Middle East.

So, while Cuban dictator Fidel Castro tries to manipulate world opinion by calling Posada "the most famous and cruel terrorist of the Western Hemisphere", Chavez, Castro's puppet and a man who thinks he is channeling South American hero Simon Bolivar, may soon have his finger on the trigger of a nuclear weapon.

At what point will our nation and the world take this threat seriously?

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By Douglas Mackinnon
The Houston Chronicle
Houston
Texas
USA

The author was press secretary to former Sen. Bob Dole. He is also a former White House and Pentagon official, is married to a Venezuelan and has been to the country a number of times

Story Credits: Douglas Mackinnon writing in the La Nueva Cuba

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