Image: Hugo Chavez meets with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Venezuelan presidency via EPA
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, left, greets Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, on Monday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 1/10/2012 5:33:37 AM ET 2012-01-10T10:33:37

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez lavished praise on each other on Monday, mocked U.S. disapproval and joked about having an atomic bomb at their disposal.

The fiery anti-U.S. ideologues have forged increasingly close ties between their fellow OPEC nations in recent years, although concrete projects have often lagged behind the rhetoric.

Both leaders dismissed U.S. concerns about Iran's intentions in the Middle East and its growing diplomatic links with Chavez and his allies in Latin America.

"They accuse us of being warmongers," Chavez said during a joint press conference. "They're the threat."

As he often does, the theatrical and provocative Chavez stuck his finger right into the global political sore spot, joking that a bomb was ready under a grassy knoll in front of his Miraflores palace steps.

"That hill will open up and a big atomic bomb will come out," he said, the two men laughing together.

Chavez accused the U.S. and its European allies of demonizing Iran and using false claims about the nuclear issue "like they used the excuse of weapons of mass destruction to do what they did in Iraq."

'Yankee imperialism'
Washington and other governments believe Iran is using the nuclear program to develop atomic weapons. Chavez and his allies back Iran in arguing the program is purely for peaceful purposes.

"One of the targets that Yankee imperialism has in its sights is Iran, which is why we are showing our solidarity," Chavez said. "When we meet, the devils go crazy," he added. mocking U.S. warnings that Latin American nations should not help the Islamic republic.

The Iranian leader is using the visit to tout relationships with some of his close friends shortly after the U.S. imposed tougher sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.

As well as Venezuela, Ahmadinejad plans to visit Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador — a tour that Washington has said shows its "desperation" for friends.

Those nations' governments share Chavez's broad global views, but do not have Venezuela's economic clout and are unable to offer Iran any significant assistance.

Ahmadinejad dismissed the accusations about Iran's nuclear program in general terms.

Video: War of words with Iran escalates (on this page)

"They say we're making (a) bomb," the Iranian leader said through an interpreter. "Fortunately, the majority of Latin American countries are alert. Everyone knows that those words ... are a joke. It's something to laugh at."

"It's clear they're afraid of our development," Ahmadinejad said.

"President Chavez is the champion in the war on imperialism," he added.

Rising tensions
Regional economic powerhouse Brazil, which gave the Iranian leader a warm welcome when he visited during the previous government of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was notably absent from his agenda this time.

Ahmadinejad, who is subordinate to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on foreign policy and other matters, has said little about the rising tensions with the West, including the sentencing to death of an Iranian-American man for spying for the CIA. The United States denies that the man is a spy.

Video: Iran sentences American to death (on this page)

"The only bombs we're preparing are bombs against poverty, hunger and misery," added Chavez, saying Iranian constructors have built 14,000 new homes in Venezuela recently.

Ahead of hosting Ahmadinejad, Ecuador's government also offered moral support, pledging to ignore Western sanctions.

"We say with clarity that we do not accept those sanctions," Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told reporters.

"We are a sovereign nation, we don't have dads punishing us and putting us in the corner for behaving badly. They (the U.S.) should instead be sanctioning the U.S. companies doing massive business in Tehran like Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Iran sentences American to death

  1. Closed captioning of: Iran sentences American to death

    >>> a former marine, has been sentenced to death accused of spying. his family and the u.s. government have a very different version of what he was doing in that country. our tehran bureau chief is with us tonight from tehran. ali, good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening, brian. the american sentenced to death is 8-year-old amir mirzaei hekmati, a former u.s. marine who served as an arab translator. he was born in arizona to immigrant tehranian parents and holds dual citizenships. iran does not recognize his u.s. citizenship . he was arrested in early december and charged with spying for the cia. three weeks ago state tv showed him allegedly confessing to being part of a cia plot. photographs of hekmati have been posted online. his family say they are terrified and shocked at the sentence, and insist he was only in iran to visit his grandmother. obama administration was quick to react.

    >> if it is true that he has been so sentenced, we would condemn this verdict in the strongest terms. we maintained from the beginning that the chargest against him were a fabrication and we call on the iranian government to release him immediately.

    >> reporter: all this is playing out amid growing tensions over iran's nuclear program . iran announced that it's now enriching uranium at a second underground facility. iran supreme leader this morning said despite heavy sanctions, iran was not going to back down on its nuclear program . meanwhile, an american sits in an iranian jail with 20 days to appeal his death sentence .

    >> ali, thank you for that.

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