Chavez and Chirac affirm ‘common vision’
PARIS, Oct 19 (AFP) - Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Jacques Chirac of France met in Paris on Wednesday and agreed to further develop their already close ties.
The meeting, which officials of both countries hailed, was expected to raise hackles in Washington, which is particularly at odds with the leader of oil-rich Venezuela.
During their hour-long meeting “the two presidents examined bilateral economic relations and in particular looked at issues concerning, oil, energy, infrastructure and tourism,” Chirac’s spokesman Jerome Bonnafont said.
“They decided to set up an organised mechanism for dialogue to further develop economic and industrial cooperation between the two countries,” he added.
It was the third time the two had met this year.
French oil giant Total has a strong presence in Venezuela and could double its output from 200,000 to 400,000 barrels a day after several billion dollars were invested, Chavez said in Paris in March.
Venezuela currently produces 3.1 million barrels of oil a day. It is the world’s fifth largest exporter and the only country in Latin America to be a member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries cartel.
Half of its production goes to the US, providing 15 percent of that country’s consumption.
Relations between Caracas and Washington, however, are strained, not least by Chavez’s close ties to Cuban President Fidel Castro.
Chavez, while standing accused of having a destabilising influence on his neighbours, has often accused the US government of plotting his overthrow. He recently called the US a “terrorist” state.
Although Franco-US relations have calmed somewhat since the row over the Iraq war, Paris and Washington still have their differences.
This week brought disagreement over World Trade Organisation negotiations on agriculture subsidies and over a proposed UNESCO convention on “protecting cultural diversity” that Washington opposes in the belief that France and other countries will use it to justify barriers to Hollywood film exports.
The Venezuelan leader came to France with a 40-strong delegation of industrialists and on Thursday a meeting with French business leaders is planned.
Trade between the two countries in the first half of this year stood at 235 million euros (280 million dollars) with the balance tilted in favour of Venezuela, thanks to its exports of oil and derivative products to France.
During the mini summit Chirac reiterated that France and the European Union supported regional integration in Latin America as a “boon for stability and economic and social progress,” according to Bonnafont, who said the French president noted Venezuela’s recent accession to MERCOSUR, the common market of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.
Earlier Wednesday, Chavez lunched with French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who spoke of the “common vision between the two countries.”
Villepin added, in an impeccable Spanish he learnt growing up in Caracas, that “relations between France and Venezuela are very good and we are looking to develop our cooperation on all levels.”
“I think the next few months and years are going to prove very important in the cooperation between our two countries,” he added.
Chavez met Chirac in March in Paris, and then again in August on the French island of Martinique, where the two paid their respects to 152 French passengers who died aboard a chartered plane that crashed in Venezuela.
“This third meeting of the year shows the close, human and personal relationship that unites the two leaders,” the Venezuelan ambassador to Paris, Roy Chaderton Matos, told AFP.
Subject: French news