CARACAS – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez lavished each other with praise on Monday, mocked US disapproval and joked about having an atomic bomb at their disposal.
“Despite those arrogant people who do not wish us to be together, we will unite forever,” the Iranian president told socialist leader Chavez at the start of a visit to four left-leaning Latin American nations.
Ahmadinejad was in Venezuela at the start of a tour intended to shore up support as expanded Western economic sanctions kick in over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.
“The imperialist madness has been unleashed in a way that has not been seen for a long time,” Chavez said in a ceremony to welcome Ahmadinejad at his presidential palace in Caracas.
Both men hugged, beamed, held hands and showered each other with praise.
As he often does, the theatrical and provocative Chavez stuck his finger right into the global political sore spot, joking that a bomb was ready under a grassy knoll in front of his Miraflores palace steps.
“That hill will open up and a big atomic bomb will come out,” he said, the two men laughing together.
“The imperialist spokesmen say … Ahmadinejad and I are going into the Miraflores basement now to set our sights on Washington and launch cannons and missiles … It’s laughable.”
Analysts are watching closely to see if Chavez will back Iran’s threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most important oil shipping lane, or how much he could undermine the sanctions by providing fuel or cash to Tehran.
The Venezuelan and Iranian leaders mostly limited their comments on Monday to mutual adulation and anti-US snipes.
“President Chavez is the champion in the war on imperialism,” Ahmadinejad said.
“The only bombs we’re preparing are bombs against poverty, hunger and misery,” added Chavez, saying 14,000 new homes had been built recently in Venezuela by Iranian constructors.
We all need a good laugh sometimes.