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Venezuela plays nuclear chess

by Oscar Medina | El Universal

Caracas, 19 March 2006 | A speculative wave points to an Iranian-Venezuelan connection aimed at extracting uranium just when Iran is being called before the UN Security Council. What truth is there in this?

The most extreme speculative opinions assure that beneath the façade of the countless commercial accords between Caracas and Tehran is hidden a maneuver that will allow Iranian nuclear reactors to be fueled with Venezuelan uranium.

What logic is there in this rumor?

Cases of alarm and lucubration began their spiral starting on 22 May 2005, when Hugo Chávez himself, enthused by tractors and bicycles of Iranian manufacture, expressed his interest in nuclear energy sources as an alternative to petroleum, and announced that his government could rely on much available advice from Iran in the matter, and —in passing— he added in Brazil and Argentina as a wisecrack during his Sunday broadcast.

By February of this year Brazil and Argentina had already marked their distance from this idea of their wealthy neighbor. Iran, on its part, while in the midst of an international dispute over suspicions concerning its nuclear program, clarified that they could indeed assist Venezuela in developing nuclear energy for peaceful uses and always within the norms of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). And, in passing, both governments executed in Caracas the establishment of a binational fund, that started off with US$200 million, meant to promote bilateral trade and consolidate a relation in which there already existed an old accord meant to oppose Washington’s imperialism.

Who said what?

Then news appeared (El Nuevo País, 8 March) of an alleged Israeli intelligence report that gave an account of the exact locations of uranium deposits in Venezuela and spoke of “extraction” already taking place in the State of Bolívar. About this report, one must say, much has been commented, but up until now nothing has been seen.

To this are added public statements that José V. Méndez, expert in nuclear matters (former director of the now defunct National Council for the Development of the Nuclear Industry, with a masters degree from the Soviet Union), has been making concerning the establishment, last February, of a “subcommittee of the United States Senate” meant to investigate the alleged Iranian-Venezuelan uranium connection.

The scandal was served

Méndez subscribes to the hypothesis that in Venezuela “there are important amounts of nuclear fuel” and gives credit to the existence of the Israeli report: “People in Washington informed me that it is real and that it was leaked in Congress and the Senate. They say it even has satellite images. For reasons of survival the government of Israel cannot ignore real threats such as those made by Iran.”

Méndez clarifies that his first reaction upon learning about this subcommittee was to direct a document —on 14 February— to the Office of the Vice President of the Republic -Jose Vicente Rangel- informing of the delicate situation and recommending the establishment of a suitable and reliable new Venezuelan Council for the Research and Development of the Nuclear Industry (CONAVIN). For Méndez, it is a moment of caution: “If the matter of the subcommittee is true, I must say that that is precisely like what happened before the Iraq invasion. And if there is even a 5% probability that all of this is true, it is important that the whole country be informed because it is something that is going to impact not just one group of politicians or one party. That affects us all and the government has not been sufficiently clear.”

A Tough Game

The diplomat, Julio César Pineda, who also belonged to CONAVIN —created during the first presidential administration of Rafael Caldera— as director general, also gives assurances as to the existence of uranium: “Prospecting took place and reserves were estimated to be approximately 50,000 tons.”

And, similarly, he believes in the possible existence of the Mossad report: “Israel is on the alert as to what is happening because there is that Iranian threat of wiping it off the map. Europe is also on the alert and even the Arabic world, because by supporting Iran, we are distancing ourselves from the Arabic world. Voting for Iran at the UN would be yielding to temptation. The nuclear matter is very sensitive and the world powers are very perceptive of that. It is significant that China, who receives 15% of its oil from Iran, and Russia, who provided it with nuclear technology, have not voted in favor of Iran at the UN. And yet Venezuela did. They have already entered us in the game of nuclear chess.”

At this stage, the fears intertwine: the fear that Venezuela may be sharing uranium with Iran, the fear that Iran may be giving secret advice to Venezuela in order to avail itself of nuclear fuel, the fear that the Bush government may find an excuse for an offensive against Iran, and the fear that Venezuela may find itself in the middle... nothing foreboding of a happy ending.

For certain, even the presence of uranium is a supposition. Nuclear engineer Leancy Clemente Lobo, retired Navy captain, former director of CONAVIN and former Venezuelan representative to the IAEA, specifies that studies undertaken during past decades yielded the detection of “anomalies” that indicate the possible presence of uranium. But, at least officially, no progress was made in the matter and that is something that Méndez, Pineda and Clemente Lobo state ought to be done and, in transparent fashion, so as to determine the quantity of proven reserves and devise a utilization plan for the generation of electric energy.

Faced with the much publicized electric energy crisis in Venezuela and the need for extracting heavy crude, Clemente Lobo finds no option more affordable than the nuclear: “What is happening is that the nuclear issue has been mixed with the political. The natural thing to do is for Venezuela to start prospecting and for there to be a discussion of a law concerning the nuclear issue and a set of rules for protection against radiation. I do not believe that uranium is being taken out of Venezuela sent to Iran, because they have more of it there that we do here. Iran does not need Venezuela in the nuclear sector; quite to the contrary. But one must be careful to recognize and accept the rules of the game. There has always been this hullabaloo because it is a kind of neuralgia; it happened to Pakistan with respect to India, Korea lives it now, Brazil and Argentina expressed it in their time. And this is Venezuela’s moment.”

ommedina@eluniversal.com

Translation by W.K.



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