'Good resources'

Chavez confirmed he had discussed the issue with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

"Putin himself has said it: 'We're going to support Venezuela so that it has nuclear energy'," Chavez said.

Sergei Novikov, a spokesman for Russian state nuclear agency Rosatom, said Venezuela had mineral deposits but needed to decide whether it wanted Russian help to exploit them.

Sergei Novikov, a spokesman for the Russian state nuclear agency Rosatom, said: "We already have satellite information that indicates there are good mineral resources, different minerals that are very important for the country's development."

US misgivings

A framework agreement had been signed, he added, but pledges for co-operation were "all there is for the moment".

US state department spokesman Ian Kelly expressed misgivings about Venezuela's nuclear ambitions.

Responding to a reporter's question about whether the United States would be worried about nuclear transfers between Iran and Venezuela on Monday, Kelly said: "The short answer is, to that, yes, we do have concerns."

Caracas is a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which would restrict any nuclear programme to nonmilitary purposes.

The country also has a small, experimental reactor, built in 1960 at the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Studies near Caracas.