Chavez begins nuclear power, olive oil foreign tour

* Venezuelan leader begins seven-nation tour

* To talk nuclear power, weapons and banks in Russia

* Trip to Middle East takes in Iran, Syria and Libya

By Frank Jack Daniel

CARACAS, Oct 13 (BestGrowthStock) – Venezuela’s socialist President
Hugo Chavez on Wednesday set off on a tour of friendly nations
including Russia, Iran and Libya with a shopping list ranging
from nuclear power and tanks to olive oil.

Chavez is a fervent opponent of U.S. foreign power and sees
many of the countries on his itinerary as sharing his goal of
lessening Washington’s dominance in world affairs.

The first stop on the 10-day trip will be Moscow, where an
agreement to develop nuclear energy, the purchase of Russian
tanks and a bi-national bank are all on the agenda.

“We are still working on the nuclear energy issue with
Russia,” Chavez said on the steps of the Miraflores
presidential palace before departing. “We are already
elaborating projects for the first thermo-nuclear plant in
Venezuela.”

He emphasized that Venezuela’s interest in nuclear power
was for peaceful purposes, aimed at reducing a dependence on
oil for electricity production. In 2008 Russia’s state-run
atomic energy company Rosatom signed a deal to sell Venezuela
the technology and know-how to build a reactor.

Chavez, who has become one of the world’s best known and
most controversial leaders, also will take in another U.S. foe,
Iran, as well as Syria and Libya in the Middle East.

He will hope to shore his international backing in the face
of growing criticism from conservative politicians and
commentators in the United States and Europe who accuse him of
supporting terrorist groups, including Basque separatists ETA.

Chavez denies supporting any terror groups.

Fresh from legislative elections that reduced his socialist
party’s majority and bolstered the opposition, Chavez will seek
to burnish his image among supporters as a statesman striking
alliances that benefit Venezuela’s interests.

In Europe, Chavez will visit Ukraine and Belarus, both of
which now receive shipments of Venezuelan oil, as well as
Portugal.

Earlier this year, Venezuela signed an agreement with
Damascus to import olive oil. The two countries also have a
long-delayed plan to build a refinery in Syria.

“We are going back to Syria to adjust our agreements in
trade, the economy and energy,” Chavez said. “We are already
bringing over olive oil and we are creating a joint venture.”

Venezuela hopes to export products such as bananas and
chocolate to its allies.

In the past three years Chavez has bought at least $5
billion in weapons including fighter jets, anti-aircraft
missile systems and tanks from Russia. Moscow, which is seeking
to export atomic energy expertise, defends its deals with
Venezuela, which is a signatory of nonproliferation treaties.

Experts say it will likely take about a decade for any
nuclear energy to be produced in the South American country.

Some politicians in the United States and Europe are
concerned about Chavez’s nascent atomic program, his weapons
purchases and close ties to Iran’s President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad
, who he has helped duck economic sanctions for Tehran’s own
nuclear program.

Chavez scoffs at such worries, saying Iran is only seeking
nuclear power for civil purposes. Chavez defends his right to
trade with its ally, which sells tractors and cars to Venezuela
and builds housing and dairies.
(Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga; Editing by Bill
Trott)

Chavez begins nuclear power, olive oil foreign tour