Chavez visits Libya for talks with Qadhafi

TRIPOLI (AP) — Oil-rich Venezuela’s anti-American president, recently slapped with a US arms embargo, was given a warm welcome to the Libyan capital Wednesday by Col. Muammar Qadhafi, whose authoritarian regime was only just removed from Washington’s list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

After dining with Qadhafi, Hugo Chavez called for the world to turn its back on the United States.

“We are against America, the imperialist,” he told reporters. “We don’t accept its hegemony. The whole world should unite against America.” He made light of the US arms embargo, saying: “We make weapons ourselves and we have some from Europe, Asia and Russia, and we leave the door open to China.” Earlier, Qadhafi met Chavez at a VIP terminal was scarred with bullet holes. Some crenelated concrete at the top had been blasted away, perhaps damaged in US air strikes more than two decades ago.

The Libyan leader, his face partly covered by a large brown scarf draped over an Arab robe, looked on as Chavez, wearing a suit, shook hands with Libyan officials.

The two leaders then got into a late-model Cadillac stretch limousine and were driven a short distance to a tent for their meeting. A herd of camels watched as the limousine drove by with at least 20 security men trotting alongside.

A Venezuelan official in Tripoli, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to reporters, told the Associated Press that Chavez would discuss with Qadhafi “social programmes based on oil revenues.” He said the global oil market was also on the two leaders’ agenda in preparation for the next OPEC meeting June 1 in Caracas.

Afterward, Chavez told reporters that Venezuela was interested in cooperating with Libya in petrochemical projects and to maintain current oil prices “which are fair now.” It was Chavez’ fourth visit to the North African nation.

Washington announced on Monday that it was restoring diplomatic relations with Qadhafi’s government and simultaneously removed it from the State Department list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

Chavez, who was in London when the arms boycott was announced, issued a stringing rebuke, saying “this doesn’t matter to us at all.” He said his government would not respond with punitive measures such as travel restrictions.

“There’s no way we will do that. We will find a solution to this,” he said, calling the United States an    irrational empire.

“It’s the empire and it has a great capacity to do harm to the countries of the world,” he said.

The United States imposed the arms ban because of what it claimed was a lack of support by Chavez’s leftist government for counter-terrorism efforts, the State Department said.

The next day, Gen. Alberto Muller, an adviser to Chavez said he had recommended to the defence ministry that Venezuela consider selling its US-supplied F-16s because of the ban.

Muller said he thought it worthwhile to consider “the feasibility of a negotiation with Iran for the sale of those planes.” Venezuela’s defence minister, however, said there were no immediate plans to sell US-made fighter jets despite a dispute over replacement parts.

Defence Minister Adm. Orlando Maniglia said a sale of the 21 F-16s wasn’t in the works and Chavez “has not given any order” as to what to do with the aircraft.

The Iranian embassy in Caracas said no deal involving warplanes had been proposed.

The defence minister also said the United States had violated a contract by refusing to sell Venezuela replacement parts for its jets, even after Venezuela paid for those parts.

“I’ve honestly grown tired of asking for replacement parts for the F-16s,” Maniglia said. “I’ve got my list.

We’ve paid. We have money deposited in the United States.” 

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