Chavez in Iran: Obama Still Leads 'Empire'
TEHRAN - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Wednesday that he has little hope of better relations with Washington under President Barack Obama, saying the United States is still acting like an "empire" in his eyes.
Chavez made the comments after arriving in Tehran on a two-day visit to Iran. In recent years, Chavez and Iran's hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - both well-known for their anti-U.S. rhetoric - have boosted economic and political ties.
The socialist leader congratulated Iran on its recent 30th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, which ousted the U.S.-backed shah and installed rule by hard-line Islamic clerics.
"Arriving in Tehran for us is like arriving at one's own home," Chavez told reporters in remarks carried on Venezuelan state-run television.
When asked about Obama's recent overtures to Iran for improved relations, Chavez said he will wait and see how the new administration takes shape but that he isn't optimistic.
"I don't have much hope, because behind him is an empire. He's the president of an empire. ... Now, I think it's fair to give him some time. ... Seeing is believing," Chavez said. "I hope President Obama is the last president of the Yankee empire, and the first president of a truly democratic republic, the United States."
The U.S. broke off diplomatic relations with Iran after the 1979 revolution and the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran by hard-line students. Ties deteriorated under former President George W. Bush, but Obama has struck a different tone since taking office, saying he would like to have engagement with Tehran. Iran has so far been cooler to the idea of making immediate contacts.
Chavez's relations with Washington also grew increasingly strained under Bush, including expelling the U.S. ambassador and withdrawing his envoy from Washington in September.
He also has been critical of Obama, including calling him "ignorant" last month after the U.S. president accused Chavez of "exporting terrorism" and being an obstacle to progress in Latin American. But the Venezuelan president also has expressed hope at times for a better relationship with the U.S. under Obama.
Before traveling to Iran, Chavez was in Qatar for a Latin American and Arab summit. While there, Chavez condemned the U.S. government's stances in the Middle East and support of Israel.
"It's a policy of permanent aggression, of war, of terrorism by the U.S. empire. That's the great guilty one, the great Satan, as they call it here," Chavez said.
Chavez, who while in Qatar courted a proposal for a new, oil-backed currency to challenge the dollar while, also said a joint Venezuelan-Iranian bank would be inaugurated Thursday during his visit. He said the two countries each put $100 million into the joint development bank.
"The big banks of the world have sunk, but here a new bank is being born," Chavez said.
Chavez's government has also founded the Bank of the South along with allied governments in South America in an effort to create a homegrown alternative to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Chavez has called such moves part of an effort to move away from Washington's influence and set up a new, independent financial structure.
Also Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Energy said Venezuela shipped an average 144,000 barrels of crude oil per day more to the U.S. in January than in December despite promising to slash crude shipments to the U.S. under recent OPEC cuts. Venezuela had said it would cut those exports by 166,000 barrels per day.