Venezuela wants to work with Russia on nuclear energy

CARACAS (AFP) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Sunday that he was interested in accepting Russia’s offer of help in developing a civilian nuclear power program.

“We certainly are interested in developing nuclear energy, for peaceful ends of course — for medical purposes and to generate electricity,” he said.

“Brazil has various nuclear reactors, as does Argentina,” he added. “We will have ours as well,” he said upon his return from a tour in China and Russia.

His remarks followed comments from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow Thursday that Russia was “ready to consider the possibility” of nuclear energy cooperation with Caracas.

Moscow and Caracas have boosted ties in recent weeks following sharp US criticism of Russia’s incursion into Georgia, with Moscow dispatching long-range bombers and warships to Venezuela for exercises near US waters.

During his global tour, Chavez forged key military and energy cooperation deals which analysts said seemed likely to put him on dangerous footing with the United States.

Russia’s energy ministry announced that the two countries also would form a consortium to invest tens of billions of dollars in oil and gas projects in the South American country.

Venezuela is the world’s ninth biggest producer of oil, according to 2004 US government figures and is a major supplier to the United States.

But Venezuela’s extensive gas reserves are believed to be underdeveloped, with all of the 30 billion cubic meters that Venezuela produces every year used domestically.

Russia is the second biggest oil exporter in the world and controls a quarter of global reserves of natural gas.

Chavez last week also visited France, Cuba and Portugal, but said the Russian leg of his world tour was particularly fruitful, especially his talks with Putin, with whom he said he forged “a profound friendship.”

“I have to thank Putin for his courage in supporting Venezuela, as well as (Chinese Prime Minister) Hu Jintao, for not yielding to pressure from anyone,” he said, in an apparent reference to the United States.

Chavez has said recently that he has increased ties with Russia as a counter-balance to US power and alluded to that goal again Sunday.

“The Russian fleet has already departed … and should arrive in Venezuela at the end of November for maneuvers to increase our defense capability,” he said Sunday.

“We are not going to invade anyone, or engage in acts of aggression toward anyone,” Chavez said.

“But no one should mistake our intention — we are prepared to do everything necessary to defend Venezuelan sovereignty,” he said.

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