Venezuela's Chavez rebuffs Pentagon report
CARACAS, Venezuela – CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Hugo Chavez rebuffed a Pentagon report that found that an elite unit from Iran's Revolutionary Guard has a presence in Venezuela, warning that the United States could be looking for an excuse to attack his country.
Chavez on Monday called the 12-page report that was delivered to the U.S. Congress last week "a disgrace," saying "these are the things they raise and repeat in reports to later justify anything."
In the report, the Pentagon concluded that Iran's Qods Force, an elite unit within its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, is well established and increasing its presence in Latin America, particularly Venezuela.
"It's totally false," Chavez said of the report's findings.
The unclassified Pentagon report did not include more details on what an increased presence by the Qods Force might entail. Pentagon officials have separately said that they do not believe Iranian terrorist proxies in Venezuela pose a threat to the United States.
Since taking office in 1999, Chavez has strengthened ties with Iran. The two countries have signed a wide range of cooperation agreements including the construction of an auto-assembly plant and agriculture projects in Venezuela.
But the two increasingly close allies have not publicly signed any deals regarding military cooperation.
During a trip to South America earlier this month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates played down any potential military threat Iran might pose in the Western Hemisphere.
"I haven't seen much evidence of that in Latin America, in terms of Iran having proxies or terrorist proxies," Gates said.
On Venezuela's hostility in particular, Gates said: "I certainly don't see Venezuela at this point as a military challenge or threat."
The Pentagon report was intended as a snapshot of Iran's military power and the threat it poses to the U.S. and deployed American troops.
Associated Press Writer Anne Flaherty in Washington contributed to this report.