Chavez further boosts ties with Ahmadinejad

During the weekend's OPEC summit, the two leaders echoed one another's stance, blaming Bush's policies for the decline of the dollar.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez came to Iran on Monday to further boost ties with a close ally in what is his fourth visit here in the last two years, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported. Chavez, who arrived to Teheran from Saudi Arabia where he attended the weekend's OPEC summit, is expected to discuss various political and economic issues with his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Chavez is accompanied by a string of top Venezuelan officials - including the foreign, industry, oil and communication ministers, as well as the mayor of Caracas, the country's capital. Ahmadinejad also attended the OPEC summit in Riyadh. During the gathering, the two firebrand leaders echoed one another's stance, blaming US President George W. Bush's policies for the decline of the dollar and its negative effect on other countries, and challenging Saudi Arabia's reluctance to mention weak dollar concerns in the summit's final declaration. Ahmadinejad claimed OPEC's member countries want to convert their cash reserves into a currency other than the depreciating US dollar, which he called a "worthless piece of paper." Chavez said the dollar was in free-fall and that its "empire" must end, and proposed trading oil in a basket of currencies excluding the dollar. But the two were unable to generate support from enough in the 13-member cartel - many of whom, including Saudi Arabia, are staunch US allies. Venezuela and Iran both share a common adversary in the United States - Teheran because of its bitter standoff with Washington over its controversial nuclear program, while the left-wing Chavez is a bitter opponent of Bush. Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, said Sunday the two statesmen would sign economic deals and memorandums of understanding in economic fields, and an agreement on small and medium enterprises. In July, the two countries broke ground to start building a jointly owned petrochemical complex in Iran, with 51 percent of it in Iranian ownership and 49 percent to be owned by Venezuela. The two also began construction of a second petrochemical complex in Venezuela, at a total combined cost of US$1.4 billion. No details on the ventures have been disclosed. The two nations believe their petrochemical partnership will help Iran access markets in Latin America and Venezuela would get access to energy markets in Asia, especially India. Ties between Iran and Venezuela have been growing stronger, with both leaders strongly condemning US policies. Chavez has defended Iran's disputed nuclear program, dismissing Washington's concerns that Teheran is secretly trying to develop atomic weapons. During Chavez's previous visit in July, the two countries signed some 20 economic and trade agreements, including ones for the construction of a housing project and an art school in Venezuela. Since 2001, they have signed over 180 trade agreements, worth more than US$20 billion in potential investment, according to IRNA. Iran has partnered with Venezuela on several industrial projects in the South American nation, including the production of cars, tractors and plastic goods.