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Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, has given his backing to Iran's nuclear programme, which world powers suspect of having non-peaceful aims. Chavez, who was visiting the Iranian capital Tehran on Saturday, said that Iran had the right to use atomic energy for peaceful purposes. "We are certain that Iran, as it has shown, will not back down in its effort to obtain what is a sovereign right of the people: to have all the equipment and structures to use atomic energy for peaceful purposes," Chavez said, on the first day of his two-day trip. "There is not a single proof that Iran is building ... a nuclear bomb. "Soon they will accuse us of also building an atomic bomb." The US, UK, China, Russia, France and Germany are putting pressure on Iran to hold face-to-face talks on its nuclear programme. 'Helping the oppressed' The leader of the Andean nation met Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, and Manouchehr Mottaki, the foreign minister. The two countries are allies and Ahmadinejad said during the visit: "Helping the oppressed and revolutionary nations and expanding anti-imperialist fronts are the main missions of Iran and Venezuela." Chavez will meet with other Iranian officials, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader. It is the first visit by Chavez since Ahmadinejad was re-elected in a disputed poll in June. The visit is part of a six-nation tour by Chavez and other high-ranking Venezuelan delegates. The group has already visited Libya, Algeria, Syria and will travel to Belarus and Russia after Tehran. Chavez signed nine agreements with Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, as part of his attempts to strengthen an alliance against the US and Israel. He said that Israel should return the Golan Heights to Syria and outlined common threats before flying on to Tehran.
Russia has agreed to lend Venezuela over $2bn to finance the purchase of weapons including tanks and advanced anti-aircraft missiles, Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's president, has said. He said his country, whose finances have suffered this year because of lower crude prices, needed to borrow the money for defence spending to avoid cuts in education and health. "We have to thank the Russian government, which approved a $2.2bn loan for arms spending," Chavez said on his weekly television show. The deal, which was agreed on his trip to Moscow last week, includes orders for 92 tanks and the S-300 missile system, which is capable of shooting down fighter jets and cruise missiles. A spokesman for the US state department said on Monday that Washington is concerned "about Venezuela's stated desire to increase its arms build-up, which we think poses a serious challenge to stability in the Western Hemisphere." Ian Kelly called on Caracas to abide by its its nuclear non-proliferation obligations. Arms race Venezuela has bought over $4bn of weapons from Russia in recent years, including 24 Sukhoi fighter jets. It was not immediately clear when Venezuela would receive the new weapons or how much they would cost. Critics say Venezuela is sparking an arms race in South America, but Chavez says he is modernising the military for defensive purposes. The country is embroiled in a diplomatic crisis with Colombia over a deal to allow troops from the US access to more bases in the neighbouring country to fight drug traffickers and leftist fighters. Chavez, a fierce critic of US foreign policy, says the Colombian bases plan could be used to launch an attack on Venezuela and increases the risk of war on the continent. "Let me be clear, Venezuela has no plans to invade anybody, or to be aggressive towards anybody," Chavez said on his show. Last year, the former soldier ordered tanks to the border with Colombia in a dispute over a Colombian bombing raid in Ecuadorean territory. Multiple targets Chavez said Venezuela was now buying 92 Russian T-72 tanks along with several types of missiles, including the Buk-M2 and S-300, to build an air-defence system. The S-300, also known as the SA-20, is considered one of the most effective surface-to-air anti-aircraft systems and is capable of tracking 100 targets at once. It can be used with missiles that have a range of about 200km and can engage six targets simultaneously. "With these rockets it's going to be very difficult for foreign planes to come and bomb us," Chavez said. Russia signed a contract in 2007 to supply Iran with the S-300 system but has dragged its feet on delivering the weapons after Washington and Israel expressed fears it would be used to protect nuclear facilities from attack. Last week, Moscow dismissed rumours that a ship supposedly loaded with timber that went missing in the Atlantic in July had really been carrying a cargo of S-300s for Iran. Chavez repeated on Sunday his commitment to developing nuclear power for peaceful purposes with the help of Russia and reiterated he was opposed to nuclear weapons.