WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Last week, Iran's "mullah-President" Mohammad Khatami visited Caracas to ink some deals with Venezuela's socialist-President Hugo Chavez. At the event, billed as an effort to "counterbalance U.S. global hegemony," both anti-American leaders demeaned U.S. overtures aimed at dissuading Tehran from building nuclear weapons. "Iran has every right in the world, as do other countries, to develop its own atomic energy," Chavez said.
Spokesmen in Tehran have said the United States is "hallucinating" about any possibility that the Iranian Islamic Republic will scrap its nuclear program in exchange for "funny and disrespectful" economic incentives. "The U.S. should apologize to Iran for making this proposal," said Iran's Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi. He went on to call U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a "queen of war and violence."
Tough talk, sounding like a "Havana harangue" -- the kind of shrill blather we've come to expect of Fidel Castro in his dotage. But this isn't just the roar of a toothless tiger. Khatami and Chavez are putting their money where their mouths are. With oil prices at near record levels, Iran and Venezuela -- two of the world's top five oil producers -- are rolling in petro-dollars. And they are using their newfound wealth to finance much more than words.
Iran's oil wealth is buying Russian nuclear technology, material and the know-how to build the kind of bomb for which Pakistan's A.Q. Khan provided the blueprints. Petro-dollars are also paying for Russian, Chinese and North Korean help in building an Iranian long-range ballistic missile -- one that not only reaches Israel, but Western Europe, as well. When the Israelis suggested that they might unilaterally stop the Iranian nuclear threat, as they did with Iraq in 1981, Tehran responded with economic blackmail: Any attack would result in mining the Hormuz Straits, through which 40 percent of the world's oil is transported.
Hugo Chavez, his pockets bulging with American petro-dollars, has gone on a spending spree of his own -- but not to benefit his country's poor. With $5 billion in annual profits from the now nationalized Venezuelan oil industry, Comrade Chavez is buying 100,000 AK-47s, 50 advanced MiG-29 fighters, new naval combatants and a fleet of lethal helicopter gunships. He's financing and outfitting a new "Bolivarian Army" to "contend with the forces of imperialism" and is paying to build an "al Jazeera-type" radio network to provide "the truth about American hegemonistic designs" in Latin America.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.
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