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Venezuelan President Chavez in Russia for Possible Weapons Deal

28 June 2007

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is in Moscow for discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin about a possible arms deal and expanded economic ties between the two countries. VOA Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports from the Russian capital.

President Chavez is expected to meet with his Russian counterpart Thursday evening in the Kremlin. Speaking during the day at the opening of a Latin American cultural center in Moscow, the Venezuelan leader said he does not rule out the development of nuclear energy in his country. In a swipe at the United States, Mr. Chavez also said American troops should leave Iraq, and that Iran has a right to nuclear technology.

Mr. Chavez says that Iran has the right to a peaceful atomic energy industry, because it is a sovereign state.

His Moscow agenda includes the possible purchase of Russian diesel-electric submarines, armed with missiles. Mr. Chavez is also interested in buying the Russian TOR-1 missile defense system.

Last year, Mr. Chavez signed a deal with the Kremlin to purchase $3 billion worth of weapons, including helicopters, fighter planes and small arms.

But Mr. Chavez said weapons are not the aim of his visit.

He says his priorities are culture, ideas and cooperation in energy as well as the military.

The two countries, both major exporters of energy, are discussing expanded commerce. Russian state television says bilateral trade, last year, amounted to only $90 million.

On Saturday, the Venezuelan leader will be President Putin's guest at a horse race in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don. However, despite signs of closer relations, Russian lawmakers voted against allowing Mr. Chavez to address them in a full session of the country's lower house of Parliament. The move is interpreted here as a way to avoid further aggravating the already chilly Russian relationship with the United States. The U.S. administration considers the Venezuelan leader a destabilizing voice in Latin America. Washington is also concerned about his international arms purchases.

Mr. Chavez has plans for more weapons deals with neighboring Belarus, where he flies after his visit to Russia. He then continues to Iran.

The Venezuelan's visit to Russia comes on the eve of President Putin's visit this weekend with President Bush at the Bush family home in Kennebunkport, Maine. The two leaders are expected to discuss ways of overcoming the recent chill in relations.

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