PORLAMAR, Venezuela – Venezuela's science and technology minister said his country is working with Russia to detect deposits of uranium but withdrew an earlier denial that the country was also working with Iran.
Jesse Chacon originally denied the reports that Venezuela is receiving support from Iran to seek uranium, but clarified later Saturday that his comments were only in regard to Russia and that exploration efforts with Iran fall under the direction of Venezuela's Mining Ministry.
Mining Minister Rodolfo Sanz said Friday Iran is helping Venezuela to detect uranium deposits and that initial evaluations suggest reserves are significant. His announcement was made the same day world leaders criticized the Islamic republic for secretly building a uranium-enrichment plant that could be used to make an atomic bomb.
Sanz declined to respond to reporters when questioned Saturday about Chacon's remarks. President Hugo Chavez said only that Venezuela "has a lot of uranium."
Asked about how Venezuela will use its uranium reserves, Chacon said that they would be exploited to develop "nuclear energy for medicinal purposes, for peaceful purposes."
Chavez had expressed interest in developing nuclear energy as early as 2005, and mentioned Venezuela could discuss it with Iran. He said during a visit to Tehran earlier this month that the two nations agreed to work together on geological studies in the Venezuelan Andes and the foothills in his home state of Barinas, where satellite information indicated the existence of "different minerals that are very important for the country's development." He didn't elaborate, and didn't mention uranium.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly has said U.S. officials have "concerns" about the possible exchange of nuclear material between Venezuela and Iran. But analysts say Iran, which has its own uranium deposits, doesn't have any immediate need to import the metal.
Chavez's project remains in its planning stages and still faces a host of practical hurdles, likely requiring billions of dollars, as well as technology and expertise that Venezuela lacks.
Russia has offered to help bridge that gap, but Sergei Novikov, a spokesman for Russian state nuclear agency Rosatom, has said there are no concrete projects and that any joint mining of uranium or the radioactive metal thorium is still a long way off.
Both Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are well-known for their anti-U.S. rhetoric, and have forged ties in everything from finance to factories, provoking concerns in Washington. Iran now manufactures cars, tractors and bicycles in Venezuela.