(photo credit: AP)
Iran's president visited Venezuela for the first time on Sunday, advancing an increasingly close alliance between two leaders united by fierce opposition to the United States.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who greeted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at Caracas' main airport, said the two countries plan to set up a plant for producing gunpowder and other components of ammunition.
"Iran is generously transferring technology to us," Chavez told troops shortly before the Iranian leader arrived. He said Iran and Venezuela will also set up factories to build cars and produce plastics - efforts to be formalized with the signing of accords during Ahmadinejad's two-day visit.
Chavez said Iran and Venezuela are "two heroic nations" with "two revolutions that are giving each other a hand."
Chavez has become a leading defender of Iran's nuclear ambitions on the world stage, while Ahmadinejad and other Middle Eastern leaders are backing Venezuela's bid for a rotating seat on the UN Security Council - a candidacy opposed by the Bush administration, which is supporting Guatemala instead.
Clutching Chavez's hands in a prolonged handshake, Ahmadinejad said Venezuela and Iran have much in common.
"Today we have thoughts, objectives and interests in common," Ahmadinejad said through an interpreter at the airport. "We must be united to be able to make these ideas reality with the aim of achieving justice and peace in the world."
"I'm sure that under the brave leadership of my revolutionary brother Hugo Chavez, Venezuela will be able to reach all its objectives in a short time," Ahmadinejad said. "The distance between our countries may be a bit far, but the hearts and thoughts are very close."
The two leaders later began talks in private at the presidential palace.
Ahmadinejad has said he and Chavez are like "brothers" in a great global struggle, and Chavez promises to argue for Iran's nuclear program if he wins a seat on the Security Council in a secret-ballot vote next month.
Iran insists its nuclear program is aimed solely at generating electricity despite concerns among US and European governments that it could be trying to develop nuclear weapons. Chavez accuses Washington of using the nuclear issue as a pretext to justify an attack on a regime it opposes.
The two leaders are united by deep-seated opposition to Washington and to Iran's enemy Israel, which Chavez accused of committing a new "Holocaust" in its bombardments in Lebanon.
Iran and Venezuela also have signed a series of accords for their state oil companies to explore for and extract oil and natural gas here.
After initial talks Sunday in Caracas, Chavez and Ahmadinejad will visit an oil field on Monday for a ceremony marking the start of joint drilling. They also plan a tour to a joint-venture tractor-assembly factory on Monday.
The two presidents are to conclude some 20 commercial accords, including plans to set up a joint petrochemical company, produce surgical tools and help train Venezuelan iron foundry workers, said Jose Khan, Venezuela's basic industries minister.
The two countries have already signed more than 80 cooperation pledges since early last year, said Alcides Rondon, former deputy foreign minister for the Middle East.
Venezuela and Iran have agreed to set up a US$200 million investment fund and Iran has agreed to build 10,000 homes in Venezuela. The two governments plan to set up factories to produce bricks, cement and bicycles.