Chavez: U.S. Has Lost in Iraq

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Tuesday that U.S. troops have been routed by a strong resistance movement in Iraq, but haven't pulled out because officials in Washington won't acknowledge defeat.

The United States would also suffer a tremendous military defeat if the Bush administration decided to invade Iran, Chavez told a group of foreign diplomats and government supporters at the Miraflores Presidential Palace.

"The U.S. empire is defeated in Iraq, they just don't want to admit it," Chavez said to rousing applause.

Using a Venezuelan slur to refer to President Bush, Chavez added: "Mr. Donkey thought they were going to be received as heroes."

"God forbid they dare to attack Iran," he said. "We want peace, but they would eat twice as much of the dust of defeat there, I'm absolutely sure of that."

Earlier Tuesday, Chavez defended Iran's nuclear program, accusing the Bush administration of falsely accusing Iran of trying to build an atomic bomb as a pretext for seizing control of the Middle Eastern nation's vast petroleum reserves.

"You know that one of the most serious problems the world has today is the energy problem, so much so that the North American empire has invaded Iraq just to look for oil and now threatens Iran because of oil," Chavez said in a nationally televised speech, referring to the United States. "It's an excuse by the empire, looking for energy."

"I'm completely sure that it's absolutely false that the Iranian government is developing an atomic bomb. It's the United States that has atomic bombs," he added.

U.S. officials believe Tehran is using its nuclear energy program as a cover for producing a nuclear weapon. They have criticized Venezuela's increasingly close ties with Iran, which include projects such as a joint $200 million development fund.

Twenty-seven of the 35 members of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, voted in January to refer Iran to the Security Council over concerns about its nuclear program. Venezuela, Cuba and Syria voted against it, and the rest abstained.

Chavez said developed countries such as the United States, France and Germany want to maintain a monopoly on nuclear technology by denying it to developing countries like his own.

Venezuela — the world's fifth-largest oil exporter — is studying the possibility of using nuclear power to generate electricity.

Chavez's comments came on the heels of a speech Monday night in which he warned that if U.S. troops were to invade any Latin American country, "revolutionaries" from across the region would join forces to battle the Americans.

Chavez's remark confirmed what many in Venezuela have long presumed: that his government would go to the aid of a close ally like Cuba in the hypothetical scenario of the U.S. sending troops.

Although U.S. officials dismiss his claims as outlandish and say they have no plans to attack Cuba, Chavez insists his country must be on guard to face any potential U.S. military attack.

The Venezuelan leader said the U.S. "should know that if it wants or someday decides ... to invade any of our countries — be it Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, today, tomorrow or the next day — we would be there gathering together the revolutionaries to do battle with weapons in hand against U.S. imperialism."

The United States has accused Chavez of trying to export his socialist "revolution" to neighboring countries, saying he is a destabilizing force in the region.

Chavez argues he poses no threat, saying Washington is the one with a history of invading countries from Iraq to Panama.

Despite political tensions between Chavez's government and Washington, Venezuela still sells the largest share of its oil to the United States.