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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Foes Forge Unlikely Alliance

TEHRAN, Iran -- To get a statue in central Tehran, you normally need to be an 11th-century Persian poet. However, Venezuela's 19th-century independence leader Simon Bolivar surveys passersby in Tehran's Goftogou Park.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, wearing the checkered headscarf of the Basij volunteer Islamic militia, stressed the cordiality of Tehran-Caracas relations when he unveiled the statue of his hero on an icy November day in 2004.

Chavez and his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, might seem to be like-minded partners: two ex-military OPEC price hawks, lavishing their petrodollars on the poor majority long neglected by their countries' rich elite.

Iran and Venezuela, the world's Nos. 4 and 5 oil exporters, forged their friendship in the 1960s as founder members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. "I would say OPEC is at the heart of the relationship. There is a downward pressure on prices and the Iranians and Venezuelans are nervous," said Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Iran is also investing in Venezuela. Iran Khodro, the Middle East's biggest car manufacturer, is planning to build its Samand model in the South American state, and oil firm Petropars has signed a deal to measure oil reserves in the Orinoco Belt. Iranian firms are producing tractors and cement there. The Iranian Industry Ministry says $1 billion has been invested so far in Venezuelan projects.

But beyond the economics, Chavez and Ahmadinejad look like strange bedfellows. "All they seem to have in common is a visceral hatred of the United States," said Ali Ansari, an expert on Iran, at Scotland's St Andrews University. "There is no real emotional tie. If Chavez were a Muslim, that would make life a lot easier."

Not accepting Israel's right to exist is an ideological crux of Iranian foreign policy, but Venezuela has diplomatic ties with the Jewish state. What's more, Ahmadinejad's populism is ideologically a world apart from Chavez's. Chavez has focused spending on his support base in the shantytowns. In Iran, budget increases have often gone to shadowy religious foundations. "Ahmadinejad has the populist rhetoric, but there is no plan. Where are the new irrigation systems, roads and railways?