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Chávez, Syria sign economic accords

Venezuelan leader hits imperialism

By Bassem Mroue
Associated Press / October 22, 2010

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DAMASCUS — On the Mideast leg of an international tour, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela said Wednesday that he and his Syrian counterpart are “on the attack’’ against Western imperialism.

The trip underscores the forces that complicate Washington’s battle for influence in Syria, which is under US sanctions because the State Department considers it a sponsor of terrorism. Despite US outreach, Syria has remained close to Iran and the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah, while building ties with Venezuela.

In Damascus, Chávez said that he and Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, are “on the attack to speed up the fall of the imperialist powers so that we have a new, balanced world.’’

The two also discussed a proposed oil project and signed several economic agreements.

Chávez arrived in Syria on Wednesday from Tehran, where he and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran said they are united in efforts to establish a “new world order’’ that will eliminate Western dominance over global affairs.

The United States accuses Syria of secret nuclear activities, which Damascus denies.

President Obama has made repeated overtures to Damascus this year, including nominating the first US ambassador to Syria since 2005 and sending top diplomats to meet with Assad.

But Syria has only strengthened ties with outspoken critics of Washington, such as Venezuela. Still, Syria stands to gain from improved ties with Washington, which could boost the country’s struggling economy and end the sanctions. Since he rose to office in 2000, Assad has begun to dismantle his late father’s socialist legacy. He loosened the reins on banking, sought to attract foreign investment, and encouraged tourism and private education.

He also is hoping for US mediation in indirect peace talks with Israel — a recognition that he needs Washington’s help to reach his goal of winning the return of the Golan Heights, seized by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war.

Yesterday, Assad said Israel “does not have the desire to give anything for the sake of peace.’’

A Venezuelan government statement yesterday said Chávez has also used his trip to discuss oil and gas projects with Mideast governments.

Before making stops in the Middle East, Chávez traveled to Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. He is headed next to Libya and Portugal.

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