Ahmadinejad, Chavez predict fall of US ’empire’

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on a visit to Tehran on Monday that the “empire of the dollar is crashing,” one day after his country and anti-US ally Iran advocated action over the weakening US currency during an OPEC summit in Riyadh. Meanwhile, Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi called on the Islamic Republic on Monday to suspend sensitive nuclear activities to avert a “serious” threat of a US military attack, while EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Monday he hoped to meet with Iranian nuclear negotiators this week, warning that time for Tehran to cooperate was running out as world powers consider new sanctions at the UN.

Chavez, who on Saturday said oil prices could double to $200 per barrel if the US attacked Iran over its disputed atomic ambitions, spoke to reporters after talks with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

The two leaders agreed to set up a joint Iranian-Venezuelan bank and signed deals to boost cooperation in the oil, petrochemical and industry sectors, Iranian media reported without giving details about the accords.

Ahmadinejad – whose country is under banking and other international sanctions over its nuclear program – on Sunday called the US dollar a “worthless piece of paper” and Chavez took a similar line on Monday.

“Soon we will not talk about dollars, because the dollar is falling in value and the empire of the dollar is crashing,” Chavez said in comments translated into Farsi from Spanish.

“Naturally, by the crash of the dollar, America’s empire will crash,” Chavez said a news conference with Ahmadinejad. The two presidents share the same viewpoint in denouncing US influence in the world.

The final statement of the oil cartel’s November 17-18 summit did not include any reference to the falling dollar, in an apparent victory for US-allied moderates led by Saudi Arabia.

But Iran and Venezuela made clear before and after the summit that they would press for action, which could include pricing oil in a basket of currencies.

Chavez last visited Iran in July when he and Ahmadinejad launched construction of a joint petrochemical plant in a bid to strengthen an “axis of unity” between their nations.

“We are determined to expand our bilateral and international cooperation as much as possible and to defend our nations’ rights,” Ahmadinejad said on Monday.

“Today we reached very important and constructive agreements which will accelerate the two countries’ cooperation,” Iran’s state broadcaster quoted him as saying.

Chavez said he believed other countries would join the joint bank. The announcement comes after many Western banks,

under American pressure, either pulled out or reduced business with Iran, which is under UN sanctions over its refusal to suspend its nuclear work.

Iranian leaders have shrugged off the impact of sanctions but economic analysts say they are hurting badly needed investment in the country, which is struggling with double-digit inflation and jobless rates.

Ebadi warned that the nuclear standoff could lead to war.

“The drum beat of war can be heard very loudly,” Ebadi told a conference of her rights group called No to War, Yes to Peace and Human Rights, urging all Iranians to support a national campaign aimed at preventing US military action.

Speculation has grown that the US may launch air strikes against Iran over its refusal to suspend sensitive nuclear activities, which the West fears is a cover to build nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear work is peaceful.

“Iran should respect United Nations Security Council resolutions, and it means suspending uranium enrichment and resolving the dispute [on the nuclear issue] through talks,” the Nobel Prize winner told reporters after the conference.

Ahmadinejad has defied international pressure on Iran to suspend enrichment and branded Iranian critics of his nuclear policy “traitors.”

Ebadi, a human rights lawyer who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, warned of an escalating crisis with the international community, saying “the threat of conflict is serious.”

Her call on the Iranian leadership to review its hard-line nuclear policy echoed similar statements of the growing number of moderate leaders who believe Iran should suspend enrichment, the policy under former President Mohammad Khatami.

Domestic criticism of the handling of Iran’s nuclear policy is sensitive because it is considered a matter of national security. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the last say on all state matters, including the nuclear issue.

Iranian officials have dismissed the threat of US military action and Ahmadinejad has called it a US “dream.” Iran says it is fully prepared to defend itself, warning Washington of a “quagmire deeper than Iraq.”

Ebadi called on Iranians to join a “national peace campaign” to stop the war.

“This campaign will pressure the [Iranian] establishment to prevent a war by accepting international commitments … and respecting UN resolutions,” she said. “We should show the world that Iranians are peace-seekers and want to live in peace not war.”   Ahmadinejad has called two sets of UN sanction resolutions against Iran “a piece of torn paper.”

Ebadi said the government should not “sacrifice” people’s other rights for Iran’s right to nuclear technology. “Nuclear technology is Iran’s right. But we have other rights that should be preserved, including living in peace,” she said. 

Russia told Iran on Monday to implement the demands of the UN nuclear watchdog to ease international concerns about its atomic program.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said a report last week by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had shown Iran had made progress in explaining its nuclear activities to the world.

“But this is not a ‘conclusive positive diagnosis,'” Kamynin said in a statement.

Solana, meanwhile, said that top Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili and his assistants “are ready to meet.”

“I have been in touch with the Iranians. I hope that they will find time in their calendar to meet this week,” the foreign policy chief told reporters heading into talks with European Union foreign ministers.

“At the moment we are paving the way for negotiations,” Solana said, but added “we’re pretty late in the month already” to find a breakthrough in the talks.

Solana was briefing EU foreign ministers in the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program about whether to push for new sanctions to try to force Iran to stop enriching uranium.

France and Britain are pushing their EU counterparts to accept new penalties to push Iran to stop enrichment work, which they fear could be aimed at producing weapons.

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