CARACAS, Venezuela – Iran's president praised Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez for his firm opposition to the United States on Sunday, promising to deepen an alliance that is helping Tehran fight U.S. moves to rein in its nuclear program.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called Chavez "my brother" and "the champion of the struggle against imperialism."
The two leaders met as both were preparing to travel to New York for this week's U.N. General Assembly.
"We have thoughts, objectives and interests in common," Ahmadinejad said. "We must be united to be able to make these ideas reality with the aim of achieving justice and peace."
Venezuelan and Iranian officials signed a series of accords, including agreements for Tehran to help Venezuela develop oil fields. The governments plan to build factories to produce everything from bricks to bicycles, and have agreed to set up a $2 billion investment fund.
Chavez and Ahmadinejad spoke through a live television link with Iranian businessmen who are helping build a $250 million cement plant in the eastern state of Monagas. They also watched as a Venezuelan Muslim knelt and prayed in a new mosque opened at a joint petrochemical plant.
Chavez honored the Iranian leader with a medal and demanded that the U.S. destroy its own nuclear arsenal instead of harassing Iran about a nuclear program that he said is purely for producing electricity.
"Iran is not making an atomic bomb," Chavez said. "The ones that have many atomic bombs, and I repeat, many, are precisely the U.S. imperialists and their allies in the world."
Iran insists its nuclear research is aimed solely at peaceful uses despite concerns among U.S. and European governments that it could be trying to develop nuclear weapons.
"I salute all the revolutionaries who oppose world hegemony," Ahmadinejad said through an interpreter, apparently referring to the United States.
Ahmadinejad and other Middle Eastern leaders are backing Venezuela's bid for a U.N. Security Council seat, which would give Chavez a platform to battle a U.S. drive for sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.
Chavez said the U.S. government "is afraid of Venezuela's voice on the Security Council. They're afraid of our voice, our presence."
The U.S. has sought to block Venezuela's attempt to win the Security Council seat, supporting Guatemala instead ahead of a secret-ballot vote next month.
Chavez reiterated his complaint that U.S. officials had not granted visas for members of his security detail and his doctors to travel with him to the United Nations.
"If what they want is for me not to go, I may just appear and go out walking on the streets of New York. Maybe I'll go to the barrios of New York, the poor barrios."
Chavez accuses Washington of using the nuclear issue as a pretext to justify an attack on a regime it opposes, and he promises to stand with Iran.
Chavez said the two governments — both major oil exporters — approved 34 cooperation accords in all including ones to restore a shipyard and build factories for petrochemicals, cement, gunpowder, small airplanes and cars.
The two leaders plan to visit an oil field on Monday for a ceremony marking the start of joint drilling. They also plan a tour to a joint-venture tractor-assembly factory.
A leading Jewish group, the Venezuelan Confederation of Israeli Associations, expressed discomfort over the visit by a leader who has called for Israel's destruction.
"We feel outrage," said Freddy Pressner, the group's president. "We can't be pleased or satisfied with the presence of someone who has said publicly that one solution (to the Mideast conflict) is the destruction of the state of Israel."
Jewish leaders spoke at a seminar where some expressed concerns about anti-Semitic incidents including graffiti spray-painted on a synagogue and recent newspaper cartoons and headlines deemed offensive. The Venezuelan government says its critical stance against Israel is unrelated to its relations with Jews, which it says remain open and positive.