Obama backs Venezuela's right to nuclear energy
US President Barack Obama said Tuesday he had no objection to Venezuela developing nuclear power for civilian energy purposes, days after Caracas and Moscow signed a landmark deal.
"We have no incentive nor interest in increasing friction between Venezuela and the US, but we do think Venezuela needs to act responsibly," Obama told Spanish media at the White House.
"Our attitude is that Venezuela has rights to peacefully develop nuclear power," he said, adding that as a signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty it must also meet its obligations not to weaponize those systems.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez clinched a deal in Moscow on Friday that will see Russia build and operate the first nuclear power plant in his country.
Closer ties between Moscow and Caracas -- Chavez has bought more than four billion dollars of weapons from Russia and promised to give it greater access to Venezuelan oil fields -- are being closely watched in Washington.
In an apparent reference to the United States, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev acknowledged that the move to build the nuclear research facility could concern some countries.
"I do not know if anyone is going to shudder at this. The president (Chavez) said there are going to be states that have different emotions about this. But I wanted to say our intentions are clean and honest."
The agreement was signed by the head of Russia's atomic energy agency Sergei Kiriyenko and built on a plan agreed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin with Chavez during a visit to Caracas in April.
Further details were not given about the timing or cost of the construction of the station, but Medvedev said diversifying energy sources was a priority even for a energy-rich country like Venezuela.
In Caracas, the agreement came under fire from the main opposition coalition, who questioned Chavez's motives for cutting a deal with Moscow.
"It's a clear demonstration of the way President Chavez's government takes decision and governs behind the country's back, without open debate, without duly informing Venezuelans about why this decision is needed and is in their interest," the group said in a statement.
Obama said Tuesday that the United States would continue to push for human rights and political and media freedoms in Venezuela as he urged the Venezuelan people not to believe their leader's anti-American propaganda.
"The antagonism between our two countries is not inevitable," he said.
"We want the people of Venezuela to be thriving economically, we also want the people of Venezuela to have a voice in their own government, that's something we cannot impose externally."
In his latest sparring with Washington, Chavez officially informed the United States last month that he would not accept Obama's designated ambassador to Caracas.
The Venezuelan leader has strenuously objected to the appointment of veteran diplomat Larry Palmer after he sharply criticized the Chavez government in his Senate confirmation hearings.
© 2010 AFP