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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 July 2007, 14:46 GMT 15:46 UK
On tour with Chavez and Ahmadinejad
By Jon Leyne
BBC News, Tehran

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Iran.
The two presidents revel in anti-Western rhetoric
It was the helicopters that fooled us.

We had waited for two hours in the blazing heat of Iran's Gulf coast for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela to arrive.

So when two helicopters landed in a cloud of dust and sand, all us journalists and cameramen naturally assumed - or hoped - that the two leaders had finally arrived.

But these two are not ordinary presidents. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez are self-declared "revolutionaries", united both by their contempt for the United States and by their concern, they insist, for the ordinary people of their own countries.

So it was their style to arrive not by helicopter, but by coach.

As they climbed down they seemed to enjoy being mobbed by the assembled press. No neat media corral here.

Soulmates

In some ways the two men make an odd couple. President Chavez is solid and bear-like, President Ahmadinejad several inches smaller, and slighter of build.

It is not really a news conference in the traditional sense. Instead the two leaders egg each other on with anti-Western rhetoric
Ideologically also: Hugo Chavez is a committed socialist, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a fervent believer in the Islamic principles that rule Iran.

He is someone who would have no time for the atheism of Karl Marx.

Yet somehow these two seem to be ideological soulmates. They grasped each others' hands in friendship throughout much of their tour of a gas complex, at Assaluyeh on the Gulf coast.

Posters show them with their arms around each other, beneath the slogan "Axis of Unity" - a not-so-subtle jibe at US President George W Bush's famous, or notorious, "axis of evil" .

President Ahmadinejad wears his usual open-necked grey shirt. Hugo Chavez is in a bright red shirt, also without a tie, and many of his party have been put in the same uniform.

Members of the Revolutionary Guard stand under a banner of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Despite seeming an odd pair, they have forged an 'Axis of Unity'
Even the television crew that has travelled with him from Venezuela wears red T-shirts, each with a photo of their leader printed on the front.

Despite the preparations for their visit, they both seem to prefer an atmosphere of spontaneity, verging occasionally on chaos.

It is possible to get much closer to them than is usual with Western or Arab leaders in this security-conscious age.

'Barbarians'

Presidents Ahmadinejad and Chavez prefer to hold their news conference in a noisy entrance hall to the complex, even though a modern theatre is just a few feet away.

It is not really a news conference in the traditional sense. Instead the two leaders egg each other on with anti-Western rhetoric.

Today Hugo Chavez is the most talkative, launching a tirade against the "barbarians" he says have invaded Iraq, and comparing them with the barbarians he says destroyed the ancient civilisations of Latin America.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad listens, often smiling.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez review the honour guard in Tehran.
The leaders are thorns in the side of the White House

The Iranian president seems remarkably relaxed at the end of a tough week, in which widespread violence broke out in Iran following the introduction of petrol rationing.

Hugo Chavez also delights in the applause his speech provokes from the gathered media and officials.

The news conference lasts the better part of an hour, even though there are only two questions, both very tame.

For one of the answers, President Chavez goes on for at least 10 or 15 minutes.

In fact, whatever schedule there might have been for the day (and we never saw one) seems to have been abandoned.

Hence our long wait in the brutal Middle Eastern sun.

It hardly seems to matter. This whole day is about as far as you can get from the discipline and media spin of an American presidential visit.

These two intriguing leaders are clearly revelling in their roles as pet hates and general thorns-in-the-side of the White House of President George W Bush.


SEE ALSO
Venezuela deepens ties with Iran
02 Jul 07 |  Americas
Chavez in talks with Iranian ally
01 Jul 07 |  Americas
Iran and Venezuela back oil cuts
14 Jan 07 |  Americas
Chavez tells UN Bush is 'devil'
20 Sep 06 |  Americas
Chavez warns against Iran attack
19 Sep 06 |  Americas
Iran and Venezuela bolster ties
17 Sep 06 |  Americas

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