Chavez, Ahmadinejad: US Power on Decline

The Associated Press
Tuesday, November 20, 2007; 1:26 AM

TEHRAN, Iran -- Venezuela's outspoken president joined with Iran's leader Monday in boasting that they are "united like a single fist" in challenging American influence, saying the fall of the dollar is a sign that "the U.S. empire is coming down."

Hugo Chavez also joked about the most serious issue the U.S. is confronting regarding Iran _ nuclear weapons _ during his get-together with Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The visit came after a failed attempt by the firebrand duo to move OPEC away from pricing its oil in dollars.

OPEC's weekend summit displayed the limits of their alliance _ their proposal was overruled by other members, led by Saudi Arabia _ but it also showed their potential for stirring up problems for the U.S. and its allies.

Making his fourth trip to Tehran in two years, Chavez has built a strong bond with Ahmadinejad that has produced a string of business agreements as well as a torrent of rhetoric presenting their two countries as an example of how smaller nations can stand up to the U.S.

"Here are two brother countries, united like a single fist," Chavez said upon his arrival in Tehran, according to Venezuela's state-run Bolivarian News Agency.

"God willing, with the fall of the dollar, the deviant U.S. imperialism will fall as soon as possible, too," Chavez said after a two-hour closed meeting with Ahmadinejad, the Iranian state news agency IRNA reported.

As the dollar weakens, oil prices have soared toward $100 a barrel. Chavez said at the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries' meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that prices would more than double to $200 if the U.S. attacked Iran or Venezuela.

"The U.S. empire is coming down," he told Venezuelan state television, calling the European Union's euro a better option and saying Latin American nations were also considering a common currency.

The leftist leader is a harsh critic of President Bush, while Iran's Islamic government is in a bitter standoff with Washington over Tehran's nuclear program. The U.S. accuses Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, a claim Tehran denies, and Iran has been hit with two rounds of U.N. sanctions for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment.

Although it's a sensitive issue for his ally, Chavez joked about acquiring his own atomic bombs, apparently seeking to poke fun at the U.S. accusation that Iran is using its nuclear program as a cover to develop nuclear weapons.

According to a Venezuelan state TV report, when a reporter asked about the aims of his visit, Chavez quipped: "As the imperialist press says, I came to look for an atomic bomb, and I've got it here. If anyone should cross me, I'll fire it."

Ahmadinejad did not appear to offer any reaction to the joke when he spoke later.

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