CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela will evaluate a proposal to join in a team of non-aligned nations to solve the crisis in Syria, President Hugo Chavez said Tuesday.
Chavez has remained a vocal supporter of Syrian leader Bashar Assad, who has been widely criticized for using Syria's military to fight a popular uprising that activists estimate has killed at least 23,000 people since it started 18 months ago.
Chavez said he will look at the proposal by Iran late last month to form a group with other non-aligned countries like Venezuela, Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq that would try to end the bloodshed.
"We're going to evaluate the proposal and hopefully we can somehow help to achieve peace in Syria, whose people are being run over by this imperialist, violent politics," Chavez said at a news conference.
"From here I send my greetings to President Bashar Assad and the Syrian people who are resisting an imperialist aggression."
Chavez, a fierce critic of the U.S. government, has accused Washington of stirring up violence in Syria similar to the fighting in Libya that brought the ouster and killing of his ally Moammar Gadhafi.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, another Chavez ally, visited Venezuela last January amid tensions with the U.S. over Tehran's nuclear program.
Venezuela's government says the conflict in Syria should be resolved peacefully without foreign intervention.
On another international peace effort, Chavez said he has not yet picked an official who will accompany talks between Colombia's government and leftist FARC rebels to end the Western Hemisphere's longest-running conflict.
Turning to the Oct. 7 presidential election, Chavez rejected a challenge to debate the opposition's candidate, Henrique Capriles.
"A debate? A debate against whom?" Chavez said. "A debate isn't possible when you're facing against nothing."
Chavez also paid tribute to victims of the Sept. 11 terror attack on the United States, but used the 11th anniversary as an opportunity to criticize the U.S. government.
"The causes of Sept. 11 are not well known yet," he said. "What is true is that the Yankee empire took advantage of this event, independent of its cause, to unleash the wildest imperialistic aggression in the history of mankind."
Associated Press writer Jorge Rueda contributed to this report.
Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: http://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao