US worried about Venezuelan arms buildup
A U.S. official said Monday that Venezuelan arms acquisitions could spark an arms race in Latin America and he also expressed misgivings about the country's possible nuclear ambitions, AP reported.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said U.S. officials were worried about Venezuela's arms buildup, "which we think poses a serious challenge to stability in the Western Hemisphere."
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Sunday that Russia has opened a $2.2 billion line of credit with which his country could buy weapons. He said Venezuela needed more arms because it felt threatened by Colombia's decision to give U.S. troops greater access to its military bases.
Kelly urged Venezuela to be "very clear about the purposes of these purchases."
Responding to a reporter's question about whether the United States would be worried about nuclear transfers between Iran and Venezuela, Kelly said: "The short answer is, to that, yes, we do have concerns."
Chavez has expressed interest in starting a nuclear energy program. Chavez is a close ally of Iran and defends its nuclear program as being for peaceful purposes, while the United States and other countries accuse Tehran of having a secret nuclear weapons program.
It remains unclear whether Iran could transfer nuclear technology to Venezuela in the future. Russia, for its part, has agreed to help Venezuela establish a nuclear energy program.
"We're going to start working on that with Russia," Chavez said Sunday. "We're not going to make an atomic bomb. ... We're going to develop nuclear energy with peaceful aims as Brazil, Argentina have."
Kelly noted that Venezuela is a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which would restrict any nuclear program to nonmilitary purposes.
"We'll be looking closely at this," Kelly said. He offered no details.