Thursday, July 06, 2006

Venezuela-North Korea Missile Pact

Mexico's Presidential election has been interesting to watch, not least because of the importance it has for the United States. Because the US and Mexico are so closely linked, it would be important regardless of anything else going on in our hemisphere. But given that Hugo Chavez is working so hard to ally the rest of the continent against us, it is particularly useful for the US to have a friendly government in Mexico City.

So it's interesting timing that as Felipe Calderon edges closer to the Mexican Presidency, Hugo Chavez has worked his way into Mercosur, creating a trillion-dollar common market, which he will try to leverage against the US. This will be an interesting dynamic to watch, as Chavez and Inacio Lula da Silva are natural rivals, and their stances toward the US are quite different (read Lula's quotes in the second article). Plus, Mercosur already has enough internal inconsistencies, even before it becomes an anti-US mouthpiece for Chavez' crackpot pursuits.

Chavez's act is growing more and more worrisome. He has sought submarines from Russia, and now is buying fighter jets from that nation. He's got a deal to produce Kalashnikov rifles in Venezuela, and he's also purchasing Russian helicopters. Venezuela's defense spending is up significantly.

And in between firing off verbal volleys at the US, Chavez found time to compliment North Korea on its development of new missiles, in advance of his trip to North Korea at the end of July, where (UPI suggests) he will discuss an oil-for-missiles deal:

The missile launch came ahead of a visit to Pyongyang by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, possibly late this month.

Chavez has announced that he will travel to North Korea, which is at odds with Washington over its nuclear program, at a time when Chavez is seeking to distance Venezuela from the United States.

The Venezuelan leader is most likely to fly to Pyongyang at the end of July on the occasion of his planned trip to Russia on July 25. Chavez told reporters that he will be going to the North to discuss science and technology cooperation.

But Chavez and Kim Jong Il are expected to seek an oil-for-arms deal. During the summit, Venezuela, the world's fifth-largest oil-rich country, is expected to offer energy resources to North Korea, which is suffering from energy shortages after the United States halted its supply of heavy oil.

In return, North Korea can offer conventional weapons and missiles to Venezuela, which is looking to fortify its military power.

The United States has demonstrated that it takes Chavez seriously. Now, as the US and the world react to North Korea's missile launches of July 4, Secretary Rice, Ambassador Bolton, and other US officials had better make sure that North Korea understands that there can be no transfer of sophisticated weapons technology to the Americas - and especially to Chavez.

Update: The World Tribune is now covering this as well.

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