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PORLAMAR, Venezuela (Reuters) - Washington's foes Venezuela and Iran are working together to find uranium in the South American nation, a new sign of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's support for Tehran's nuclear program.
Venezuelan Mining Minister Rodolfo Sanz said on Friday that Iranian experts have carried out geophysical testing and aerial surveys to calculate the size Venezuela's uranium deposits.
The United States, which believes Iran is trying to build an atomic bomb, is worried about the leftist Chavez's increasingly close ties with the Middle Eastern nation.
"Our geophysical probes indicate we could have important uranium reserves," Sanz said, speaking in Venezuela's Margarita Island before the start of a two-day Africa-South America presidential summit.
Venezuela has for years known of its uranium deposits but has not studied them extensively and is not a uranium producer. The new research indicates the OPEC nation has large deposits in its mineral-rich Bolivar and Tachira states, Sanz said.
Chavez says Iran has a right to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes and has vowed to help his ally sidestep threatened fuel sanctions over the program.
Sanz said it would take three years to certify the size of the uranium reserves, if Chavez decided to do so. The reserves would need to be at least partially certified before production could begin.
Venezuela, one of the United States' main oil suppliers, has taken the first steps toward developing its own nuclear energy program with the help of Russia. Chavez said he opposes weapons of mass destruction.
The announcement followed accusations on Friday by U.S. President Barack Obama and the leaders of Britain and France that Iran is building a secret nuclear fuel plant in violation of international rules.
Iran supplies Venezuela with tractors and consumer goods, including bicycles and dairy products.
Chavez this month agreed to supply Iran with 20,000 barrels per day of gasoline. The fuel supplies could be targeted by international sanctions against Iran if diplomacy fails to deter Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Large deposits of uranium are found in many countries in the world, including the United States and Australia.
Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Writing by Kevin Gray, Editing by Anthony Boadle