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Venezuelan President Arrives In Turkmenistan For Energy Talks

President Hugo Chavez is under fire at home
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has arrived in Turkmenistan for a two-day visit to the Central Asian nation.

On a tour which has already taken him to Africa and Iran, Chavez is attempting to make energy deals and shore up international support for his government in Venezuela.

Top of the agenda in talks with the Turkmen president and senior officials will be energy issues, including the potential creation of a global gas cartel.

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov said on state television on September 5 that Chavez's visit would be "a good foundation for further development of mutually beneficial long-term cooperation."

What sort of cooperation, Berdymukhammedov did not say. But Chavez supports the creation of a global gas cartel, an idea Russia, Iran, and Qatar have discussed.

Turkmenistan, as Central Asia's leading gas producer, would be a suitable member of an organization that was a "natural gas version of OPEC."

But Chavez's chances of leaving Ashgabat with any firm commitments to a gas cartel seem slim.

Turkmenistan is also being courted by the European Union, which wants its gas, and the United States, which supports Europe receiving Turkmen gas and also wants continued cooperation with Turkmenistan on transit of NATO cargo to Afghanistan.

Iran Leg

Chavez's visit to Turkmenistan comes after a two-day trip to Iran.

After meeting with Chavez on September 5, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said his country and Venezuela have "common enemies," which makes improving ties all the more important.

Ahmadinejad said that "helping the oppressed and revolutionary nations and expanding anti-imperialist fronts are the main missions of Iran and Venezuela."

Chavez was more direct, saying the common enemy was "the U.S. empire and its lackeys." Chavez also spoke up in defense of Iran's nuclear development program, saying Tehran would "not back down" in its efforts to acquire peaceful nuclear energy.

As both presidents are leaders of countries rich in hydrocarbons and outspoken critics of the United States, they make seemingly natural allies. According to Iranian state media, it was Chavez's seventh or eighth visit to Iran.

Chavez has also used this tour, which has already taken him to Libya, Algeria, and Syria, to lash out at plans by Venezuela's neighbor Colombia to allow U.S. forces to base troops there.

Ahmadinejad has made similar comments in the past about U.S. bases located in Central Asia and the presence of U.S. forces in neighboring Afghanistan and Iraq.

Both the Iranian and Venezuelan presidents are also facing increasing discontent from inside their countries. On September 5, while Chavez was in Iran, there were protests against his government in Venezuela.

Ahmadinejad has faced unprecedented challenges to his leadership and the system of government since he was reelected in a disputed election in June.

In Turkmenistan, the Venezuelan president can expect little concrete support for his campaign against the United States since Ashgabat currently is at odds with Russia and therefore unlikely to reject overtures from Washington.

Chavez will probably have better luck gaining support for his anti-U.S. policies when he travels on to Belarus and Russia.