Venezuelan President Leaves Iraq after Controversial Visit
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez wound up controversial visit to Iraq Friday, having become the first head of state to meet Iraqi President Saddam Hussein since 1991 despite criticism from the US.
Chavez completed a 24-hour visit on his tour of OPEC countries, crossing back overland into Iran at the Al-Munziriya crossing post.
An Iraqi official said Chavez and his delegation were due to take a plane from an Iranian airport near the border to continue their tour of OPEC countries.
The Venezuelan president, whose country holds the revolving presidency of OPEC, had drawn fire from Washington by including Iraq on his itinerary.
"It's just not the right thing to show up in Baghdad, particularly as a democratic leader visiting a dictator," US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said earlier this week. "We think that's particularly inappropriate."
At a press conference in Baghdad Thursday, Chavez condemned US criticism of his visit to Iraq as interference in his country's affairs.
"We regret, we condemn and we reject the (US) interference in our internal affairs," he said after his meeting with the Iraqi President.
Chevez had said earlier that "Venezuela is a sovereign state that takes educated decisions that serve its interests."
He said that during his visit to Iraq he had "discussed several matters with the President Saddam covering oil, OPEC, the need to keep crude prices steady and the strengthening of OPEC's role.
The Venezuelan leader also said he had invited the Iraqi President to the forthcoming summit in Caracas, planned for September, but his vice-president, Jorge Valero, was quoted by the Venezuelan press from Baghdad as saying the Iraqi leader had not confirmed he would attend.
Iraq's official news agency INA said that during the Venezuelan leader's visit the two countries signed an agreement on cultural exchange and a letter of intent to create a joint commission to promote bilateral cooperation.
The two agreements were signed Thursday, and the Venezuelan leader said in a later press conference that "relations between Venezuela and Iraq have started a dynamic phase."
Chavez tour of fellow OPEC nations is to invite their leaders to a summit in Caracas next month, only the second in the cartel's 40-year history – BAGHDAD (AFP)
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