Presidents of Iran, Venezuela plan $2-billion project fund

Special to The Times

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez agreed Saturday to create a $2-billion social investment fund, the latest sign of the deepening ties between their oil-rich, anti-U.S. countries.

The fund will finance projects in their countries and others in Latin America and in Africa. Previous cooperative efforts included building joint-venture cement, tractor and automobile factories in Venezuela.

"We must be comrades in the construction of both our countries," Ahmadinejad said at a ceremony at the Miraflores presidential palace here. "We have the potential of being among the most advanced countries in the world."

All the problems of the world, he said, are the result of "powerful countries that only seek economic benefits and do not value human rights because all they are concerned with is lining the pockets of their multinational companies."

Ahmadinejad's Latin American tour is also to take him to Nicaragua, which last week swore in to office a leftist president, and to Ecuador for the inauguration Monday of leftist President-elect Rafael Correa.

U.S. government officials have expressed concern over closer ties between Iran and Venezuela, citing what it has described as Iran's sponsorship of Hezbollah, the militant group in Lebanon believed to have been involved in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires that left 85 people dead.

Ahmadinejad and Chavez signed 10 other agreements addressing energy, administration and other topics. Chavez said the two countries were undergoing the "same revolution" and would work together to maintain oil prices at current levels.

"Imperialism won't rest in its effort to weaken us, and one of the strategies is to weaken the price of oil and dominate our reserves," he said. "Our answer will be to defend prices and cut production."

Special correspondent Mogollon reported from Caracas and Times staff writer Kraul from Bogota, Colombia.

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