Chavez Visits Syria on Tour to Counter U.S. Sway

Chavez arrived in Syria from Tehran, where he and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said they are united in efforts to establish a new world order.

On the Mideast leg of an international tour, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Thursday that he and his Syrian counterpart are on the offensive against Western imperialism.

 Hugo Chavez  Bashar Assad AP

The trip underscores the forces that complicate Washington's battle for influence in Syria, which is under U.S. sanctions because the State Department considers it a sponsor of terrorism. Despite U.S. outreach, Syria has remained close to Iran and the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah, while building ties with Venezuela.

In Damascus, Chavez said that he and Syrian President Bashar Assad are building ties to accelerate the fall of (U.S.) imperialist hegemony and the birth of the new world of equilibrium and peace.

We're on the offensive, Chavez said. We're building an alternative.

The two also discussed a proposed oil project and signed several economic agreements.

Chavez arrived in Syria on Wednesday from Tehran, where he and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said they are united in efforts to establish a new world order that will eliminate Western dominance over global affairs.

The U.S. accuses Syria of secret nuclear activities, which Damascus denies.

President Barack Obama has made repeated overtures to Damascus this year, including nominating the first U.S. ambassador to Syria since 2005 and sending top diplomats to meet with Assad.

But Syria has only strengthened ties with outspoken critics of Washington, such as Venezuela.

Still, Syria stands to gain from improved ties with Washington, which could boost the country's struggling economy and end the sanctions. Since he rose to office in 2000, Assad has begun to dismantle his late father's socialist legacy. He loosened the reins on banking, sought to attract foreign investment and encouraged tourism and private education.

He also is hoping for U.S. mediation in indirect peace talks with Israel - a recognition that he needs Washington's help to reach his goal of winning the return of the Golan Heights, seized by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war.

On Thursday, Assad said Israel does not have the desire to give anything for the sake of peace.

A Venezuelan government statement Thursday said Chavez has also used his trip to discuss oil and gas projects with Mideast governments.

Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez, who was traveling with Chavez, said his government has been working with Syria on plans to build an oil refinery there capable of processing 140,000 barrels of crude a day, the statement said.

In 2007, Syria signed a contract with Iran, Venezuela and Malaysia for the construction of the oil refinery in central Syria.

The statement also said Iran's government agreed Wednesday to Venezuelan participation in developing major gas deposits in that country.

Before making stops in the Middle East, Chavez traveled to Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. He is due to travel next to Libya and Portugal.