Despite tense relations with Venezuela, President George W. Bush says it might be OK for the South American nation to have a nuclear reactor for peaceful energy uses. Bush acknowledged he had not heard about Venezuela's request for a reactor when asked about it Tuesday in an interview with Latin American reporters in advance of his five-day trip to the region. But he didn't reject the idea, even though he has had numerous disputes with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
As Chavez, Bush and leaders from 32 other nations in the Western Hemisphere prepare to gather Friday at the Summit of the Americas in Argentina, the Venezuelan leader is trying to boost his profile by putting his disputes with the United States at center stage.
On Tuesday, Chavez said he would bring to the summit a message that the United States' "capitalist, imperialist model" was responsible for exploiting developing economies and ruining the global environment. He also warned he might share Venezuela's U.S.-made F-16 fighters with Cuba and China, accusing the United States of making it difficult for his country to obtain spare parts for the planes, which Venezuela originally purchased in 1983.
Chavez has said his government was preparing for a possible U.S. invasion aimed at taking over Venezuela's oil fields, an allegation that U.S. officials have denied. He also has denounced the U.S.-led war in Iraq and said world leaders should consider moving the United Nations headquarters out of the United States.
Chavez recently said he is interested in working with Iran to explore peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Chavez has insisted Iran has the right to develop nuclear energy despite opposition from the U.S. government, which fears Tehran may be developing a nuclear weapons program.
Venezuela has asked for technical help from Argentina to develop nuclear energy. Bush said he would be curious to know what Argentine President Nestor Kirchner has to say about the idea.
Kirchner and Chavez share left-leaning politics and have built close ties. Bush said he hopes Kirchner will agree with his position that international oversight of any nuclear development is important and noted that Venezuela already is an energy rich nation as one of the world's top oil producers, the AP reports.
"I guess if I were a taxpayer in Venezuela, I would wonder about the energy supply that Venezuela has," Bush said. "But maybe it makes sense. I haven't really studied the proposal."
Bush's trip to Argentina, Brazil and Panama follows what has been one of the worst week's of his presidency. One of his top advisers was indicted, he had to replace his widely criticized Supreme Court nominee, and U.S. military deaths in Iraq passed the 2,000 mark.