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|Thursday, August 10, 2000, updated at 21:59(GMT+8)|
Venezuelan President in Iraq For Landmark VisitVenezuelan President Hugo Chavez arrived in Iraq from Iran on Thursday for a landmark visit, the first one by a head of state since the 1991 Gulf War.
Shortly after Chavez and a large delegation accompanying him arrived at the Iranian-Iraqi border city Munthariya, he stepped into an Iraqi military helicopter and now is on the way to the Iraqi capital Baghdad.
Iraqi officials, including Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan and Oil Minister Amir Muhammad Rashid, have been waiting at the border for his arrival for hours, a local TV report said.
During his short visit, Chavez is expected to hold talks with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and invite him to attend the summit meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) due in September.
The talks are expected to focus on what measures should be taken to stabilize the volatile oil prices and strengthen unity among the OPEC members.
Chavez's trip has been under criticism of the United States.
US State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said on Tuesday that Washington can not understand the visit and will be raising the issue with "relevant" Venezuelan officials.
"We do think it is a rather dubious distinction to be the first democratically elected head of state to go and meet with the dictator of Iraq," the spokesman said, adding Chavez is making the visit without the approval of the UN Sanctions Committee.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jose Vicente Rangel has rejected the criticism by declaring there is no UN resolution banning dignitaries from visiting Iraq.
He said the only interest Chavez has in visiting Iraq is that it is an OPEC nation, of which Venezuela is also a member.
The key objective of Chavez's 10-nation tour is to personally invite all OPEC members to attend the summit meeting slated for September in the Venezuelan capital Caracas.
Chavez has visited Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Iran. In addition to Iraq, the trip will also take him to Indonesia, Libya, Nigeria and Algeria before returning to Caracas on August 15.
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