Venezuela's Chavez sees U.S. 'threat' over Iran ties

Presidents, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua (L-R), Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Raul Castro of Cuba, salute with clenched fists during the official photo session of the 5th ALBA alliance summit in Havana December 13, 2009. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan

HAVANA (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Sunday that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s warning to Latin American nations about their ties with Iran was “an overt threat,” especially to his country and Bolivia.

During a gathering of leftist leaders in Cuba, Chavez said Clinton’s words were among “clear signs of an imperial offensive” targeting what he called “progressive forces” in Latin America.

Chavez is the most outspoken U.S. critic in Latin America.

He is among several regional presidents to strengthen diplomatic and commercial ties with Iran despite mounting international pressure on the Islamic Republic over its nuclear ambitions. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Brazil, Bolivia and Venezuela in late November.

Clinton warned Latin American countries last week against becoming too closely involved with Iran, saying that doing so was “a really bad idea” that could have consequences for them.

Her remarks drew criticism from Bolivia’s Foreign Ministry and from Chavez.

“It’s an overt threat,” Chavez told reporters in Cuba. “Her declarations are like a threat, especially at Venezuela and Bolivia.”

Along with Chavez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa are fierce critics of U.S. foreign policy and recently have forged closer ties with Iran, Russia and other countries.

Reporting by Nelson Acosta; Writing by Helen Popper; Editing by Will Dunham