President Hugo Chavez said Venezuela will offer to sell its fleet of 21 U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets to any country it chooses, including Iran, while looking to buy new warplanes from Russia.
Chavez made the remarks in a speech late Saturday in rural eastern Venezuela, backing suggestions by one of his top generals that he should consider selling the F-16s to Iran. The government released a partial transcript on Sunday. Chavez noted that Gen. Alberto Muller had suggested the idea last week in response to Washington's refusal to sell the country parts to upgrade the jets.
Chavez rejected US claims that Venezuela is legally bound to seek US permission to sell the F-16s under the terms of the sale contract. "Now they say in the United States that we can't sell those planes. What can't we sell? We will sell those planes to whomever we want, if someone wants to buy them," Chavez said. "Those planes are ours; they don't belong to them anymore."
"What's more, we'll give them to whomever we wish," said Chavez, whose increasingly close ties to Iran have alarmed the government of US President George W. Bush.