Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president and an ardent critic of the US government, is backing Iran's right to develop nuclear fuel despite international community opposition to Tehran pursuing its atomic programme.

 

Gholamali Haddadadel, Iran's parliament speaker, said: "Although we have not had any conversations until now with Venezuelan authorities, we would be willing to study the possibility."

 

Venezuela, the world's fifth largest oil exporter, last year said it was interested in developing nuclear technology with the possible help of Argentina, Brazil or Iran for civilian energy and medical purposes.

 

Venezuelan capability

 

Venezuela had a small research reactor that was closed more than a decade ago and is now used for food irradiation and sterilisation. Experts say nuclear development could take Venezuela as long as 10 years of investment and training.

 

The Iranian delegation stressed 
a nations' right to  nuclear power

The Iranian delegation visiting Venezuela to boost ties between the two nations signed a joint statement ratifying "the right of all nations to make peaceful-use nuclear energy" and condemned the "imperialism" of foreign powers.

 

Iran on Tuesday confirmed that it had restarted uranium enrichment that it insists will only be used for peaceful civilian purposes despite US and European fears that the technology would be used to create nuclear weapons.

 

Possible sanctions

Venezuela
joined Syria and Cuba this month at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in opposing the UN watchdog's decision to send the Iran nuclear energy dispute to the UN Security Council, which could impose sanctions.

 

Chavez's growing ties to Iran have only made Washington more wary of the former army colonel turned populist president, whom the US accuses of using the nation's oil wealth to destabilise democracy in the region.

 

The Venezuelan leader says the United States is meddling in democracies in the region, and accuses the US State Department of sponsoring a brief coup against him in 2002. He has promised a socialist revolution to end poverty and promote the integration of Latin American nations.

 

Common factor

The US signalled on Wednesday a broadened diplomatic offensive against Iran, claiming Tehran posed a "strategic challenge" to the world on several fronts beyond fears over its nuclear programme.

 

Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, testifying before a Senate committee, heralded stepped-up efforts to muster international action against Iran's alleged support for terrorism and human rights abuses at home.

 

She said she would travel to Egypt and the Gulf next week for talks with Washington's Arab allies on how to contain a government she says is bent on "political subversion, terrorism, and support for violent Islamist extremism".

 

Farsi radio

Rice said the administration would seek an additional $75 million from the US Congress to fund around-the-clock Farsi radio and television broadcasts, and other efforts to promote Iranian democracy.

 

"Will work to support the aspirations of the Iranian people for freedom and democracy in their country"

Condoleezza Rice,
US Secretary of State

"The United States will actively confront the aggressive policies of the Iranian regime," she said. "At the same time, we will work to support the aspirations of the Iranian people for freedom and democracy in their country."

 

US officials said they were trying to expand their approach to Iran which for the past two years had been focused on suspicion the country was secretly trying to build a nuclear bomb.