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Tuesday, 8 August, 2000, 00:21 GMT 01:21 UK
US attacks Chavez' Iraq visit
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
The US says Mr Chavez' trip breaks political sanctions
The United States has attacked plans by Venezuela's newly re-elected President Hugo Chavez to visit Iraq.

The Venezuelan leader, currently on a 10-nation tour of oil-producing states, is due to meet Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein on Thursday.


It's very hard for us to understand given that Iraq continues to flout its international obligations

US State Department
"We think it's a rather dubious distinction to be the first democratically elected head of state to go meet the dictator of Iraq (since the 1990 invasion of Kuwait)," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

He suggested that Mr Chavez' trip also contravened UN political sanctions, as the Venezuelan leader had not sought advice from the UN sanctions committee before his visit.

Mr Boucher said that Mr Chavez' visit was "hard to understand" because of what he described as Iraq's continued refusal to meet international obligations.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
Mr Chavez is seeking backing for his Opec summit proposal
"It's Venezuela's obligation, as a UN member state, to observe all the Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq and the sanctions regime," said Mr Boucher.

"In any contact with Iraqi officials, we would expect Venezuelan officials to make clear that the roots of the current confrontation with Iraq," he added.

Summit proposal

Mr Chavez' tour of countries belonging to the Organisation of Oil Producing and Exporting Countries (Opec) is designed to drum up support for Venezuela to host its the first Opec summit for 25 years

Cuban President Fidel Castro
Mr Chavez also has close ties with Fidel Castro
Currently in Saudi Arabia, he will also visit Kuwait, Iran, Libya, Indonesia, Qatar, Nigeria, Algeria and the United Arab Emirates.

Mr Boucher denied that Mr Chavez' visit was the reason for US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's omission of Venezuela from a tour of south-American nations next week.

The spokesman said time constraints would prevent Mrs Albright from including Venezuela on her tour taking in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Ecuador.

Suspicion

Although the United States is a major importer of Venezuelan oil, many senior government figures view Mr Chavez with suspicion because of his left-wing policies and close links with communist Cuba.

The Venezuelan leader has also previously called Libya, included in his itinerary "a model of participatory democracy."

Observers say the trip once again shows Mr Chavez' eagerness to adopt an independent foreign policy for Venezuela.

Mr Chavez is extremely popular in his own country, last week enjoying a landslide win at the polls to secure a third term in office, despite some protests from oppositions over alleged voting irregularities.

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See also:

01 Aug 00 | Americas
Chavez promises revolutionary change
31 Jul 00 | Americas
Chavez: Visionary or demagogue?
06 Aug 00 | Middle East
US keeps grip on Iraq
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