Venezuelan President Meets Saddam Hussein
B A G H D A D, Iraq, Aug. 10 -- Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez held talks today with President Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, becoming the first head of state to meet the Iraqi leader face-to-face since the 1991 Gulf War.
Chavez’s visit to Iraq came in defiance of criticism from the United States, a major importer of Venezuelan oil, which is still trying to keep Saddam isolated a decade after his forces invaded Kuwait, sparking the 1990-91 Gulf crisis.
“We are very happy to be in Baghdad, to smell the scent of history and to walk on the bank of the Tigris River,” Chavez told a news conference shortly before midnight.
He said he was received warmly by Saddam who “honored” him by driving him around Baghdad. “I extend my deep gratitude to him for the warm welcome he gave us,” Chavez said through aninterpreter.
Chavez, on a tour to invite the leaders of the 10 OPEC member states to a summit next month, said he had “fruitful” talks with Saddam on the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ future rule and defending reasonable oil prices as well as bilateral cooperation.
He said he found Saddam well versed in OPEC matters.
Chavez defended his visit against U.S. criticism. “We regret and denounce the interference in our internal affairs. We do not and will not accept it,” he said.
The Venezuelan president had crossed overland earlier in the day to Iraq from Iran at the Monthuriyah border post and was then flown to the international airport at Baghdad by an Iraqi military helicopter.
He was given a red-carpet welcome at the airport by Vice Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council Izzat Ibrahim and other senior officials.
Baghdad’s international airport has not been used since the United Nations imposed stringent sanctions on Iraq after it invaded Kuwait in 1990. The embargo bans international flights to and from Iraq.
Chavez’s visit is part of a tour of all fellow OPEC states to promote the cartel’s first summit in 25 years in Caracas on Sept. 27-29 and to discuss OPEC production levels amid bullish world oil prices.