On Thursday, the Financial Times reported that the U.S. would pressure Argentina not to sell a nuclear reactor to Venezuela, whose officials "said this week they were interested in nuclear technology only for 'peaceful ends' and that they were planning to despatch a team of scientists to Argentina to study that country's experience." -- Bloomberg News reported that Venezuela's energy and oil minister denied the country was trying to acquire a nuclear reactor, as an Argentine newspaper had claimed on Oct. 9: "'We won't be acquiring a reactor,' said Ramirez, who is also president of Petroleos de Venezuela." -- But U.S. news agencies like Knight Ridder were reporting unequivocally on Tuesday that "Chavez, who has angered the Bush administration with his policies and rhetoric at home and abroad, wants Argentina to sell Venezuela a nuclear reactor." -- AP was more cautious, citing Venezuela's denial but asserting that "Venezuela's government has asked Argentina about the possibility of providing technical expertise to help develop nuclear energy in Venezuela for peaceful purposes." -- AP noted that Venezuela's vice president had attributed the stir to "a 'dirty campaign' against Chávez's government." -- One sally in the dirty campaign, perhaps, came in the form of new charges from Pat Robertson, made to Wolf Blitzer a few days ago on CNN, that Venezuela is seeking nuclear material from Iran and gave Osama bin Laden $1.2 million after September 11. -- Venezuela dismissed Robertson's remarks, calling the former Republican presidential candidate and founder of both the Christian Coalition and the Christian Broadcasting Network "insane." -- The Venezuelan president seemed to retaliate for Robertson's remarks on Wednesday by announcing: "I have given the order, the [Florida-based evangelists known as] New Tribes, the so-called New Tribes, are going to leave Venezuela. This is real imperialist penetration, it makes me ashamed. . . . It's real imperialist infiltration, the CIA, they are taking sensitive and strategic information, and besides they exploit our indigenous people. We don't want to abuse them, but simply give them a date to pack up and leave." ...
U.S. TO LOBBY ARGENTINA ON CHÁVEZ NUCLEAR MOVE
By Andy Webb-Vidal
Financial Times (UK)
October 13, 2005
http://news.ft.com/cms/s/c8211c2a-3b86-11da-b7bc-00000e2511c8.html (subscribers only)
Argentina is likely to face heavy U.S. pressure to block any sale of a nuclear reactor to the Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chávez, which is seeking to develop nuclear technology, possibly with the help of Iran.
Venezuelan officials have confirmed reports in Argentina that Venezuela's state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela in August asked Argentina to sell it a "medium-sized" nuclear reactor. Washington maintains an uneasy relationship with Venezuela, which some U.S. officials see as a "destabilizing" influence in Latin America, and the prospect of a nuclear-empowered Mr. Chávez would complicate matters.
"The U.S. government will not be excited about the idea and would likely put pretty heavy pressure on Argentina not to follow through," said a senior U.S. defense official familiar with Latin American policy.
Venezuelan officials said this week they were interested in nuclear technology only for "peaceful ends" and that they were planning to despatch a team of scientists to Argentina to study that country's experience.
"The important thing is that the country is informed that the government wants to advance in new areas such as nuclear and atomic energy," said Rafael Ramírez, the energy minister.
Rafael Bielsa, Argentina's foreign minister, also confirmed that Venezuela had expressed an interest. Argentina has sold nuclear technology for reactor projects to countries such as Australia and Egypt.
However, analysts are sceptical not only about Venezuela's need for nuclear technology but also its ability to carry out such a program. Venezuela, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, has the largest proven oil reserves in the Americas, as well as sufficient hydroelectric generation capacity.
In the mid-1950s, the military dictatorship of General Marcos Pérez Jiménez acquired a small nuclear reactor from General Electric, but the technology was declared redundant in the 1980s and effectively shut down.
Miguel Octavio, a stockbroker in Caracas who formerly worked as a researcher at Venezuela's scientific research institute, said Venezuela had few nuclear physicists to develop atomic energy. "Today there is very little expertise in that field, you would have to train people, and it would take a long time," he said.
But the prospect of Venezuela developing atomic energy, for whatever end, is likely to continue to fuel speculation. Mr. Chávez has said Venezuela supports the position of Iran in its stand-off with the U.S. and Europe over Iran's nuclear program.
Geologists say mineral-rich Venezuela has large deposits of uranium ore, especially in the south of the country. There have been reports in Venezuela in recent months alleging that joint ventures signed with Iran, for projects such as cement and tractor factories, may not be what they seem.
VENEZUELA SEEKS TO DO NUCLEAR RESEARCH IN ARGENTINA
By Peter Wilson
October 11, 2005
Venezuelan Energy and Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said the South American country plans to send scientists to Argentina to study "peaceful uses" of nuclear energy.
Ramirez also told the state-run Bolivarian News Agency that Venezuela doesn't have any plans to acquire a nuclear reactor from Argentina as reported on Oct. 9 by Argentina's Clarin newspaper. Clarin said state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA made the request at a late August meeting in Buenos Aires.
"We won't be acquiring a reactor," said Ramirez, who is also president of Petroleos de Venezuela.
Ramirez's denial came two days after U.S. television evangelist Pat Robertson accused the South American country of seeking nuclear material that could be used to make a bomb. Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel yesterday denied Robertson's charges, saying the leader of the Christian Coalition was "crazy."
Venezuela particularly wants to study the use of nuclear energy for medical projects, Ramirez said, without elaborating.
"The important thing is the country is informed that the government continues to advance in new areas such as nuclear and atomic energy," Ramirez said.
Analysts, such as independent oil analyst Jose Toro Hardy, questioned Venezuela's need for nuclear technology, saying it may be for political ends.
"Venezuela has huge reserves of oil and natural gas," Toro Hardy said. "We have large hydroelectric resources. I don't see why nuclear power is needed."
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, 51, said in March that his country supports Iran in its confrontation with the U.S. over its nuclear program.
Chavez said that each country has the right to nuclear power.
CHAVEZ TURNS TO ARGENTINA FOR NUCLEAR REACTOR, LIKELY PROVOKING U.S.
By Colin McMahon
October 11, 2005
http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/world/12872937.htm (registration required)
BUENOS AIRES -- With President Nestor Kirchner leading the way, Argentina has fostered closer ties with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez while maintaining generally positive relations with the United States. But that dance may soon become a whole lot more delicate.
Chavez, who has angered the Bush administration with his policies and rhetoric at home and abroad, wants Argentina to sell Venezuela a nuclear reactor.
What Argentina can provide may not fit Venezuela's needs. And the Kirchner government is said to be split on the proposal anyway. The Buenos Aires newspaper *Clarin*, quoting a senior Argentine official, said the idea was bouncing around government offices "like a hot potato."
The thought of Chavez acquiring any nuclear technology is sure to displease the United States. And despite his left-leaning views, his occasional digs at the United States, and the domestic political benefits he reaps from appearing to stand up to President Bush, Kirchner has been careful not to alienate the Bush administration.
"I cannot imagine anything that Argentina could do that could get the United States more upset than this," said Peter Hakim, president of Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank in Washington. "Venezuela is seen as a major adversary of the United States. The U.S. has no confidence in Venezuela, and they don't have a lot of confidence in Argentina either."
The timing is tricky. Venezuela's proposal to purchase the reactor was made formally in August, but it was not disclosed until Clarin broke it on Sunday. The news comes less than a month before Argentina is to play host to Bush, Chavez, and the hemisphere's other presidents at the Summit of the Americas on Nov. 4-5.
Argentina is also in the heat of a campaign for parliamentary elections Oct. 23. Among the high-profile candidates Kirchner is backing is Rafael Bielsa, Argentina's foreign minister.
Bielsa said Sunday that Argentine would pursue any potential nuclear sale to Venezuela "with great responsibility" and follow its agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency. He said the United States had not objected when Argentina sold nuclear technology to Egypt, Australia, Algeria, and Peru.
But others questioned the wisdom of such close dealings with Chavez, particularly on such a controversial issue.
Ricardo Lopez Murphy, a center-right candidate running for parliament in greater Buenos Aires, criticized Chavez's government as "tending toward totalitarianism." Interviewed on Radio Palermo, he warned against making any deal that would cause "a serious problem with the international community."
Even within Kirchner's government are critics who either do not trust Chavez or think such a deal is not worth the ire it would bring from the United States, Clarin said.
Bush administration officials and critics across the Americas say Chavez's efforts to spread his so-called Bolivarian Revolution are sowing insecurity across the region. They accuse him of crippling democracy at home and using his plentiful oil revenues to meddle dangerously in the affairs of Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and other nations.
But Chavez is popular with many Latin Americans. His anti-Bush rhetoric wins fans, and so does his largesse.
Chavez helped Argentina during its economic crisis by buying government bonds and providing energy. For that he has the gratitude of Kirchner. And when Chavez visited Buenos Aires earlier this year, he was greeted at the opening of a Venezuela-owned gas station like some kind of rock star.
Venezuela insists it would use nuclear power solely for peaceful purposes, in this case to help it process petroleum. But Chavez has opposed U.S. global efforts to fight nuclear proliferation. And he has talked of working with Iran to help develop nuclear power projects.
"A lot of this from Chavez is rhetoric, but the U.S. does not take it as anything but serious when Chavez speaks," Hakim said. "The U.S. does not like the sale of these things anyway, and the sale of it to a declared adversary could only provoke the administration."
VENEZUELA WANTS ARGENTINE HELP TO DEVELOP NUCLEAR ENERGY
By Oscar Serrat
** Venezuela has consulted with the Argentine government about the possibility of developing a peaceful nuclear energy program, according to Argentina's Cabinet chief. **
October 11, 2005
http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/12869973.htm (registration required)
BUENOS AIRES -- Venezuela's government has asked Argentina about the possibility of providing technical expertise to help develop nuclear energy in Venezuela for peaceful purposes, officials said Monday.
Argentine Cabinet Chief Alberto Fernández, responding to a report a day earlier in the prominent Argentine daily Clarín, said a delegation from the Venezuelan state oil firm Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. had inquired about the possibility.
Argentina is one of the leading Latin American nations in nuclear power generation for peaceful purposes.
"Venezuela has shown interest in the possibility," Fernández confirmed, speaking with local reporters about Sunday's report in Clarín.
In Caracas, Venezuelan Energy Minister Rafael Ramírez told state television that building a nuclear reactor in Venezuela "is not planned at this moment."
"It's about technical exchange and studies, there is no concrete agreement for obtaining anything related to generating atomic energy," Ramírez said.
"We still are not at the point for obtaining [nuclear] technology," he added.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez recently said his government is beginning research into peaceful uses of nuclear power, and is looking to countries such as Iran and Brazil as examples.
Fernández did not say when or with whom the Venezuelan energy officials met. The two countries have signed a series of energy accords that mark close ties between Chávez and left-leaning Argentine President Néstor Kirchner.
Argentina's foreign minister, Rafael Bielsa, also confirmed Venezuelan interest in Argentine nuclear power know-how. He noted that Argentina has helped other countries including Australia and Egypt with reactor projects for peaceful uses.
Venezuelan Vice President José Vicente Rangel confirmed "that is an operation" involving the state-run oil company and the technology ministry.
Rangel didn't give details but said he wouldn't be surprised if government opponents accuse Chávez of seeking foreign expertise to develop nuclear weapons rather than an alternative energy program.
"Of course they will give it military connotations," he said, adding that it was totally false and part of a "dirty campaign" against Chávez's government.
Venezuela, the world's fifth largest oil exporter, has already signed accords to allow Argentine shipyards to build oil supertankers for its fleet. Chávez has also bought hundreds of millions of dollars in Argentine bonds in a sign of warm ties.
But some Argentine press reports suggest that pro-Chávez forces within Kirchner's government are facing opposition from other government officials who oppose the idea of granting Venezuela nuclear expertise.
Chávez has previously said he is interested in working with Iran to explore peaceful nuclear energy. Chávez has insisted Iran has the right to develop nuclear energy despite opposition from the U.S. government, which fears Tehran may be developing a nuclear weapons program.
ROBERTSON: CHAVEZ SEEKS NUCLEAR MATERIAL
October 10, 2005
Pat Robertson, the Christian Coalition founder, told CNN Sunday that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is negotiating with Iran for nuclear material and sent $1.2 million to terrorist Osama bin Laden.
Chavez is creating a Marxist-like dictatorship in his country and is trying to spread Marxism in South America, Robertson said on "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."
"One day we're going to be staring at nuclear weapons and it won't be Katrina facing New Orleans, it's going to be a Venezuelan nuke," Robertson told Blitzer in an interview.
On Aug. 23, Robertson told viewers of "The 700 Club" program that the U.S. should kill Chavez to stop the Latin American country from becoming a "launching pad" for extremism. The next day the television evangelist said his comments were misinterpreted.
Robertson also said Sunday that "sources that came to me" told him that Venezuela sent money to bin Laden after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. He also said Chavez befriended Muammar Qadhafi of Libya and "these people who are considered terrorists."
Chavez, president of the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, used a speech before the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 15 and a news conference to attack the U.S. and President George W. Bush.
Relations between Venezuela and the U.S. have eroded since Chavez, 51, took office in February 1999.
CHAVEZ SLAMS PAT ROBERTSON REMARKS
October 10, 2005
Venezuela has dismissed as "absurd" charges by US evangelist preacher Pat Robertson that President Hugo Chavez had sent money to Osama bin Ladin after the 9/11 attacks and was seeking nuclear material from Iran.
The remarks by Robertson on Sunday, a one-time Republican presidential candidate and a leader of Christian conservatives, came just weeks after he triggered a media storm by calling on Washington to assassinate left-winger Chavez.
"This man is insane at the very least. This is absurd," Venezuelan Vice-President Jose Vicente Rangel said.
"Some policies up north force one to look at them not through the usual political analysis, but with a team of psychiatrists, psychologists, and even shamans," he said.
Robertson's assassination comments in August underscored the deep political rift that has grown between oil producer Venezuela and the United States since Chavez was elected in 1998 with a populist promise to fight poverty.
WAR OF WORDS
Washington charges that Chavez, a former army officer, has become increasingly authoritarian and a nuisance in the region by allying with Cuban President Fidel Castro to undermine democracy in neighboring countries.
Chavez, who has spent millions of dollars in oil revenues on social programs for the poor, dismisses those charges. He blames the United States for a 2002 coup he survived and says Washington wants to assassinate or topple him.
Despite strained political ties and heated tit-for-tat rhetoric, Venezuela still sells most of its crude to the United States, and the U.S. market gets about 15% of its oil imports from its South American partner.
Speaking to CNN Late Edition, Robertson said Chavez wanted to set up a Marxist dictatorship in Venezuela.
"He's trying to spread Marxism throughout South America. He is negotiating with the Iranians to get nuclear material. And he also sent $1.2 million in cash to Osama bin Ladin right after 9/11," Robertson said.
He offered no evidence to substantiate the charges.
Robertson has apologized for his previous assassination remarks, saying he was just frustrated by Chavez's constant attacks on the administration of U.S. President George Bush.
Chavez often rails against U.S. foreign policies and presents his self-described socialist revolution as an alternative to capitalist policies.
He has sought closer political and energy ties with Iran, Russia, and China. Chavez last May announced his intentions to use nuclear power and said his government could start talks with Iran as well as Argentina and Brazil.
CHAVEZ KICKS OUT U.S. EVANGELISTS FOR 'SPYING'
By Patrick Markey
October 13, 2005
CARACAS -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Wednesday ordered U.S. New Tribes evangelical missions working with indigenous groups to leave the country after accusing them of "imperialist infiltration" and spying.
Chavez, a former paratrooper who says his socialist revolution counters U.S. influence, briefly suspended foreign missionary permits in August after U.S. evangelist Pat Robertson called on Washington to assassinate the left-wing leader. Robertson later apologized.
"I have given the order, the New Tribes, the so-called New Tribes, are going to leave Venezuela. This is real imperialist penetration, it makes me ashamed," Chavez said, wearing a green military uniform and red army beret.
"It's real imperialist infiltration, the CIA, they are taking sensitive and strategic information, and besides they exploit our indigenous people," he said. "We don't want to abuse them, but simply give them a date to pack up and leave."
He did not say when the missions would have to leave Venezuela and offered no proof for his allegations.
Chavez, who is praised by supporters for championing the poor, was speaking at a ceremony in southwestern Apure State to hand over land titles, tractors, and credits to help indigenous groups.
The Florida-based New Tribes Mission, a Christian evangelist group that trains and coordinates missions to preach in remote areas, has 160 assigned missionaries in Venezuela working with 12 indigenous groups, according to its Web site.
No one answered the U.S. telephone number on the site.
The announcement came just days after Robertson, a leader of the Christian conservatives who have backed U.S. President George W. Bush, again attacked Chavez, accusing him of funding Osama bin Laden and seeking atomic material from Iran.
Venezuela officials rejected the new accusations as "absurd."
Chavez has often charged Washington with plotting his downfall or murder. U.S. officials dismiss that as wild, populist rhetoric, but say the Venezuelan leader works with Cuban President Fidel Castro to erode regional democracy.
Frayed political ties and a barrage of angry rhetoric have not stopped Venezuela, the world's No. 5 oil exporter, from selling most of its petroleum to the United States.