Chavez nuclear gag riles the US

While the rest of the world scrambles to build missile defence shields, and the diplomatic community rushes to emergency meetings at the United Nations, Hugo Chavez is taking a splendidly relaxed view of Iran’s latest nuclear ambitions.

The Venezuelan President has once more managed to upset his American counterparts, this time by using a televised Cabinet meeting to crack knockabout jokes about helping Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Welcoming his late-arriving Minister for Mining, Rodolfo Sanz, to Tuesday’s gathering, which was being broadcast live on state television, Mr Chavez shuffled some papers and cheerfully inquired: “How’s the uranium for Iran? For the atomic bomb?”

Inside the room, the remark drew giggles. But at the US State Department, where irony is perhaps in less common currency, it prompted a stern response from officials concerned about possible nuclear transfers between Venezuela and Iran.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly pointed out that Mr Chavez has previously said Iran has a “sovereign right” to pursue peaceful nuclear projects, regardless of international concern over revelations that it has developed a uranium enrichment plant.

Since Mr Chavez is a key ally of Mr Ahmadinejad (apparently on the basis that any enemy of the US is a friend of his) the US State Department is now concerned that his regime could supply the Islamic Republic with uranium from its recently-discovered deposits.

Venezuela has dismissed those concerns, though, pointing out that Iran already boasts significant uranium of its own and has no need to import any. Though Mr Chavez is keen to develop nuclear energy in his country, he has always been vehemently opposed to nuclear weapons.

In a separate move, perhaps designed to further needle the US, Mr Chavez recently announced that he intends to ban TV stations from broadcasting the imported cartoon Family Guy, claiming that it somehow promotes the use of marijuana.

Last year, his administration forced the network Televen to pull The Simpsons from the airwaves, saying the show flouted regulations prohibiting “messages that go against the whole education of boys, girls and adolescents.”

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