Iran vows ties with Venezuela to remain firm

Ahmadinejad indicates West should not expect diplomatic opening after Chavez’s death

A boy stands in front of a banner of late President Hugo Chavez at the main square of his hometown, Sabaneta, in western Venezuela, Friday. (photo credit: AP/Esteban Felix)
A boy stands in front of a banner of late President Hugo Chavez at the main square of his hometown, Sabaneta, in western Venezuela, Friday. (photo credit: AP/Esteban Felix)

Iran and Venezuela will continue to have strong ties, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promised Saturday, after returning to Tehran from Caracas, where he attended Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez’s funeral.

Ahmadinejad’s remarks came a day after he drew flack for saying that Chavez, who died last week after a long battle with cancer, would be resurrected and “return alongside Jesus Christ and Mehdi [the hidden imam] to establish peace and justice in the world.”

The death of the firebrand leftist leader had led some to believe the Latin American country might soften its stance toward the West and distance itself from Iran, which has become a pariah over its illicit nuclear program.

But Ahmadinejad, who is to step down later this year, said Tehran and Caracas would continue to support each other no matter who was in charge.

“The Iranian nation has strong bonds with revolutionary nations and we do help to the strengthening of these ties so that no one can imagine that a vacuum will be created in our relations due to the death of Chavez,” the Iranian president said, according to the semi-official Fars News agency.

Annual bilateral trade between the two countries is estimated to be in the hundreds of million of US dollars, and Chavez and Ahmadinejad were frequent visitors to each other’s countries. However, some Iranian pundits have said that the two countries, who share little in common other than an anti-Western attitude, could not continue to be such strong allies.

“Definitely this will have an impact on Iran’s relations with Venezuela,” Iranian political analyst Sadegh Zibakalam told The Wall Street Journal.

After Chavez’s death on Tuesday, Israeli diplomatic officials said Jerusalem was trying to assess whether Chavez’s departure could offer Israel an opportunity to mend ties. The officials spoke to The Times of Israel on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the issue.

While Chavez’s handpicked successor Nicolas Maduro would likely maintain ties with Iran, his presumptive challenger in elections next month, Henrique Capriles, who has Jewish roots and is the grandson of Holocaust survivors, might take a different stance vis-a-vis the Islamic Republic.

Ahmadinejad attended Chavez’s funeral in Caracas on Friday, joining Maduro’s accusation that the leader “had been killed by enemies.” However, he drew criticism at home after posting on his personal website that Chavez would return along with Jesus and the Mahdi, a mystical “13th imam” who, in Shiite theology, is thought will return to Earth to usher in a Utopian era.

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