In a September 8th presentation made at the Brookings Institution, which I attended, New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau warned about the numerous political, financial and economic links already existing between the governments of Muhammad Ahmadinejad in Iran and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. He included in his remarks a reference to uranium prospecting and exploitation “possibly being done by the Iranians in Venezuelan areas located south of the Orinoco River”.
The Venezuelan ambassador to the U.S., Bernardo Alvarez immediately called the allegations by Dr. Morgenthau "outrageous … unfounded and irresponsible” in a letter to the District Attorney prominently displayed in the Washington press.
But, in a dramatic about face, and only weeks after this vigorous denial, the Chavez government has just publicly admitted that Iran is exploring for uranium in Venezuela. Mining and Basic Industries Minister Rodolfo Sanz, talking at the II Summit of African and South American Nations (held at the resort island of Margarita, in Venezuela), has confirmed that Iran is “helping Venezuela to explore for uranium and, so far, the results indicate that there are important deposits of this mineral in the area of Santa Elena de Uairen”, near the Brazilian border. The minister added that the Iranian help was largely in the activities of geophysical exploration and that “Venezuela will soon start the process of developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, not to build a bomb”.
This admission by the Venezuelan regime of Hugo Chavez comes at a moment in which Tehran was forced to confess that it had been building a secret uranium enrichment plant — a revelation that has brought the Iranian nuclear issue to a crisis level. The leaders of the G-20 have been quick to condemn Iran for this clandestine plant which is being built near the city of Qom. The combination of these two events in Venezuela and Iran have served to validate Morgenthau’s thesis that these two countries have structured a nuclear axis before the rather pasive eyes of the international community.
The Iran-Venezuela nuclear axis presents a new challenge. Not only is Iran a rogue state but now Venezuela is openly siding with this country in pursuing a nuclear policy which will represent a clear threat to world security in the near term. The repercussions of this situation in Latin America will probably be felt immediately since Brazil is a member of the G-20, is a neighbor of Venezuela and has maintained very friendly relations with the Hugo Chavez’s regime. President Lula has called Hugo Chavez “the best president Venezuela has ever had” but will now be under pressure fom the G-20 group of countries to make up his mind as to where Brazil stands in this delicate issue.
The Obama foreign policy team will also have to revise its rather complacent posture regarding the Hugo Chavez government. So far, Obama has been very tolerant of Chavez’s aggressive posture in the hemisphere, in the belief that U.S. national security was not being compromised. This new development related to the production of uranium in Venezuela, ostensibly for future Iranian consumption, will force the U.S. to take a more pro-active stance vis-a-vis the Chavez government.
Chavez alignment with the Colombian terrorists of the FARC, the use of the Venezuelan banking system by Iran as a conduit for massive money laundering and, now, the revelation of this nuclear axis, calls for a careful reassesment of U.S. policy toward the Hugo Chavez government. Tolerance must have its limits: nuclear cooperation with Iran is beyond them.