Monday, May 25, 2009
JERUSALEM — Venezuela and Bolivia are supplying Iran with uranium for its nuclear program, according to a secret Israeli government report obtained Monday by The Associated Press.
The two South American countries are known to have close ties with Iran, but this is the first allegation that they are involved in the development of Iran's nuclear program, considered a strategic threat by Israel.
"There are reports that Venezuela supplies Iran with uranium for its nuclear program," the Foreign Ministry document states, referring to previous Israeli intelligence conclusions. It added, "Bolivia also supplies uranium to Iran."
The report concludes that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is trying to undermine the United States by supporting Iran.
Venezuela and Bolivia are close allies, and both regimes have a history of opposing U.S. foreign policy and Israeli actions. Venezuela expelled the Israeli ambassador during Israel's offensive in Gaza this year, and Israel retaliated by expelling the Venezuelan envoy. Bolivia cut ties with Israel over the offensive.
There was no immediate comment from officials in Venezuela or Bolivia on the report's allegations.
The three-page document about Iranian activities in Latin America was prepared in advance of a visit to South America by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who will attend a conference of the Organization of American States in Honduras next week. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is also scheduled to visit the region.
Israel considers Iran a serious threat because of its nuclear program, development of long-range missiles and frequent references by its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to Israel's destruction. Israel dismisses Iran's insistence that its nuclear program is peaceful, charging that the Iranians are building nuclear weapons.
Iran says its nuclear work is aimed only at producing energy. Its enrichment of uranium has increased concerns about its program because that technology can be used both to produce fuel for power plants and to build bombs.
Israel has been pressing for world action to stop the Iranian program. While saying it prefers diplomatic action, Israel has not taken its military option off the table. Experts believe Israel is capable of destroying some of Iran's nuclear facilities in airstrikes.
Iran, under Ahmadinejad, has strengthened its ties with both Venezuela and Bolivia, where it opened an embassy last year. Its alliance with the left-led nations is based largely on their shared antagonism to the United States but is also a way for Iran to lessen its international isolation.
The Israeli government report did not say where the uranium that it alleged the two countries were supplying originated from.
Bolivia has uranium deposits. Venezuela is not currently mining its own estimated 50,000 tons of untapped uranium reserves, according to an analysis published in December by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The Carnegie report said, however, that recent collaboration with Iran in strategic minerals has generated speculation that Venezuela could mine uranium for Iran.
The Israeli government report also charges that the Iran-backed Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon have set up cells in Latin America. It says Venezuela has issued permits that allow Iranian residents to travel freely in South America.
The report concludes, "Since Ahmadinejad's rise to power, Tehran has been promoting an aggressive policy aimed at bolstering its ties with Latin American countries with the declared goal of 'bringing America to its knees."'
The document says Venezuela and Bolivia are violating the United Nations Security Council's economic sanctions with their aid to Iran.
As allies against the U.S., Ahmadinejad and Chavez have set up a $200 billion fund aimed at garnering the support of more South American countries for the cause of "liberation from the American imperialism," according to the report.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor refused to comment about the secret report