'We're studying [planning] an oil refinery in Syria,"said Rafael Ramirez, during an official visit to Venezuela by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, on Monday

 

Venezuela's relations with Iran and Syria have strengthened under Hugo Chavez, it president, who views the Middle Eastern nations as important allies in his efforts to build what he calls "multi-polar world" no longer dominated by the United States.

 

Ahmadinejad's first trip to Venezuela also highlighted Iran's backing for the fellow OPEC country's bid for a UN security council seat that Chavez would use to challenge Washington's campaign for international sanctions against Tehran.

 

Chavez said Ahmadinejad's visit showed that the two countries were jointly defying what he says is the imperialist aggression of the world's only superpower.


"It is a union that seeks a balance in the world and to save the future of your children, my children and our grandchildren," Chavez told a state-owned TV network.

 

Buoyed by high oil prices that underpin their popularity at home and tapping into anti-American sentiment around the world, both presidents are awkward foes for the United States.

 

A deepening alliance

 

Iranian-Venezuelan ties have previously focused cooperation as major oil exporters, but the leaders emphasized their new bond in standing up to America.

 

"Nowadays, we have common goals and interests," said Ahmadinejad, who repeatedly called his counterpart by his first name. "We have to be united."

 

"I salute all the revolutionaries who oppose world hegemony," he added in an apparent reference to the United States.

 

Under Chavez, Venezuela - the world's fifth largest oil exporter - has reduced its refining assets in the United States while expanding operations throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

 

Petroleos de Venezuela SA, Venezuela's state-run oil company, has recently bought a stake in a small Argentine refinery, signed a deal to double capacity at a Uruguayan refinery, revamped a Cuban refinery and laid the cornerstone for a $2.5 billion refinery in Brazil last December.