Chavez to Get Nuclear Help

ReutersChavez addressing a Venezuela Socialist Party event Monday in Caracas.
CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez said Sunday that Russia would help Venezuela develop nuclear energy, a move likely to raise U.S. concerns over increasingly close cooperation between Caracas and Moscow.

Chavez said he accepted an offer from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for help in building a nuclear reactor.

"Russia is ready to support Venezuela in the development of nuclear energy with peaceful purposes, and we already have a commission working on it," Chavez said. "We are interested in developing nuclear energy."

Putin offered Chavez the assistance during a meeting in his Novo-Ogaryovo residence last week. It was not specified what kind of cooperation Putin could offer Venezuela, but Russia is aggressively promoting itself as a builder of nuclear power plants in developing nations.

During Chavez's visit last week, a Russian naval squadron sailed for the Caribbean Sea in preparation for exercises with Venezuela later this year — a move that appeared retaliatory after the United States sent warships to deliver aid to Georgia.

The deployment is expected to represent the largest Russian naval maneuvers in the Caribbean — and perhaps the Western Hemisphere — since the Cold War.

Since 2005, Venezuela has agreed to buy more than $4.4 billion of weapons from Russia — including fighter jets, combat helicopters and 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles — and President Dmitry Medvedev has offered Chavez a loan to buy more.

Chavez argues that the United States and European Union do not have the right to prevent developing countries from pursuing nuclear technology, and he has strongly defended Iran's nuclear program despite the Western powers' fear that Tehran may be building nuclear weapons.

Before taking Russia up on its offer, Chavez had expressed interest in acquiring a nuclear reactor from Argentina and working with Iran, among other countries, to research nuclear energy.