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Chavez, Assad pledge to resist U.S. 'aggression'

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Wednesday that he and Syria would "build a new world" free of U.S. domination.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Wednesday that he and Syria would "build a new world" free of U.S. domination.

"We have decided to be free. We want to cooperate to build a new world where states' and people's self-determination are respected," Chavez said after a 2 1/2-hour meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad at his presidential palace in Damascus.

"Imperialism's concern is to control the world, but we will not let them despite the pressure and aggression," the Venezuelan leader said, speaking through an interpreter.

Speaking at Damascus airport on his arrival late Tuesday, Chavez said both countries agreed to stand up to the United States.

"We have the same political vision and we will resist together the American imperialist aggression," he said.

Pictures of Chavez and Assad lined the streets of downtown Damascus, and Chavez drove through a sea of thousands of Syrians waving banners and Venezuelan flags en route to his meeting with Assad. The two leaders strolled down a red carpet leading into the People's Palace, alongside a 21-gun salute. A marching band played both national anthems as they reviewed the honor guard.

Political, economic agreements signed
Assad said he won Chavez's support for Syria and the Palestinians.

"The stance of President Chavez is known and we heard it today: support for Syria in regaining its occupied territories and support for the Palestinian people in achieving their national rights and the establishment an independent state, in addition to the desire to help Lebanon in the postwar period," Assad said at a news conference with Chavez.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war, and Syria still considers the strategic plateau Israeli-occupied.

Assad said Syria and Venezuela agree that there should be a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.-led troops from Iraq. He also said Damascus supports Caracas' candidacy to be a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council in 2007-8.

With Chavez and Assad looking on, delegates from the two countries signed a total of 13 political and economic agreements.

Assad greeted Chavez at the airport Tuesday night and thanked him for his support for Middle Eastern nations. He told reporters he saw Chavez's visit as "historic," and that the Venezuelan leader had made "great stands" in support of Arab causes.

"We appreciate your sincere feelings toward the peoples who have their rights and are under occupation, as well as your sincere humanitarian and moral sentiments," Assad was quoted as saying through an interpreter.

Chavez develops ties with Arabs
Chavez said he and Syria shared a "decisive and firm" stance against "imperialism" and American attempts for "domination."

Chavez has built close ties with Iran, Syria and other Mideast countries while his relations have grown tense with the U.S. and Israel.

Earlier this month, he compared Israel's attacks on Hezbollah militants in Lebanon to the Holocaust and withdrew Venezuela's ambassador to the Jewish state. Israel responded by recalling its ambassador to Venezuela, criticizing what it called Chavez's "one-sided policy" and "wild slurs."

Asked about Chavez's visit to Syria, U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the Venezuelan leader should remind Damascus about its international obligations to prevent Hezbollah from receiving weapons.

He cited a 2004 U.N. resolution that called for the disarmament of all guerrillas in Lebanon and the Aug. 14 cease-fire resolution that called for an arms embargo against Hezbollah. Israel accuses Syria of supplying arms to the Lebanese militia.

"We think what's important for anyone having discussions with the Syrian government to do is to emphasize the need for Syria to meet its international obligations," Casey said. "And that includes complying with its long-standing obligations under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, as well as the additional ones placed upon it in Resolution 1701."

Newspaper: Chavez a 'brave man'
Syrian state-run newspapers on Wednesday hailed Chavez's visit.

An editorial in the Tishrin government paper called him a "brave man," and said his visit showed that Venezuelans and Syrians were "standing in one trench because their enemy is the same."

"Damascus is receiving today a man of steadfastness... who stands in the face of huge challenges and says `no' to U.S. policies and plans," it read.

Chavez's visit provides "support and backing to the forces of justice, freedom and independence," read an editorial in the ruling Baath party's newspaper.