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Chávez warns against US attack on Iran

LONDON -- President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela said yesterday that if the United States attacked Iran in its dispute with Tehran over nuclear technology, the price of oil could soar.

Visiting London after a weekend meeting between the European Union and Latin American countries in Vienna, Chávez, the leader of the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, said the Iranians would have no choice but to respond to a US assault by cutting oil production.

''If the United States attacks Iran . . . oil could reach $100 a barrel or more," Chávez said at a meeting hosted by London's mayor, Ken Livingstone. ''The English middle classes would have to stop using their cars."

''If they attack Iran, the Iranians will cut off their supply of oil. We would do the same if we were attacked. We would cut off our oil," Chávez said before 1,000 Britons.

''Moreover," Chávez said, ''Iran has said it would attack Israel, and I know they have the wherewithal to do so."

The United States and European Union are putting pressure on Iran to halt uranium enrichment, which Tehran says it wants for peaceful nuclear power.

The White House has refused to rule out military action.

The oil price has rocketed in recent years to around $70 a barrel, pouring billions of dollars into Venezuela's economy.

''If they attack Iran, I think it will be far worse than the situation is in Iraq," Chávez said, describing the Iraq war as ''the Vietnam of the 21st century."

Chávez was welcomed by Livingstone, who said President Bush ran ''a gangster regime."

''We salute you, Mr. President," Livingstone told Chávez. ''Londoners stand with you, not with the oil companies and the oligarchs."

Chávez was in London for two days to meet figures from the British left. He will not meet Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Young Chávez supporters, clad in Venezuela's red, blue and yellow colors, banged drums, waved placards and chanted the president's name until he took the stage.

In a speech broadcast in Venezuela as part of a regular program, Chávez extolled Fidel Castro's Cuban government.

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