June 04, 2009
Venezuelan and Bolivian Support for Iran's Nuclear Program
On May 25, 2009, evidence emerged linking Venezuela and Bolivia to Iran’s nuclear program. According to a confidential Israeli government report leaked to the Associated Press, Bolivia and Venezuela, which both have uranium deposits or reserves, have supplied uranium to Iran’s nuclear program. While Bolivia has denied the allegations and Venezuela has not commented, both Latin American countries have enjoyed increasingly friendly relations with Iran in recent years. Both nations have additionally made public statements of support for Iran’s nuclear enrichment activities.
Since Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election in 2005, Tehran and Caracas have echoed similar anti-American rhetoric. In 2007, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Ahmadinejad claimed that they were strengthening an “axis of unity” against the United States. This entente has spread to include Iran’s sanctioned nuclear program, ranging from Venezuelan statements of support for Iran’s enrichment activities to allegedly supplying the Islamic Republic with uranium.
Chavez has stated that Iran has a legitimate right to its nuclear program and that Venezuela supports Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear technology. Venezuela, a member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and represented Latin America and the Caribbean to the NAM 15th Ministerial in July 2008 in Tehran. At that meeting, the representatives released a statement in July 2008 “reaffirm[ing] that states’ choices and decisions, including those of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in the field of peaceful uses of nuclear technology and its fuel cycle policies must be respected.”
Beyond public statements, the leaked Israeli intelligence document alleged that Venezuela and Bolivia supply Iran with uranium to fuel its nuclear program. Venezuela has not responded to this report, but Caracas and Tehran have signed numerous mineral trade deals – some as long ago as March 2006 – that aroused international suspicion that Chavez would support Iran’s nuclear enrichment goals directly. The United States has already sanctioned one Iranian-owned bank in Caracas for providing financial services that supported Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Venezuela may even develop its own program. In September 2008, Chavez announced that he was “interested in developing nuclear energy, for peaceful ends of course,” claiming that Russia had offered to help in this endeavor, just as it has with Iran’s program.
Iran and Venezuela have also deepened their military alliance in recent years, moving towards mutual defense and military support agreements that complement their nuclear cooperation. Like Tehran under Ahmadinejad, Caracas under Chavez has turned to Russia and China for aid in its military development plans, drawing Iran and Venezuela even closer under a common defense umbrella. 
In 2006, Chavez claimed that he would defend Iran from any threat of invasion. In April 2009, Venezuelan Vice President Roman Carrizales and Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammed Najjar met in Caracas to discuss greater defense cooperation.  Najjar’s visit was the first state visit of an Iranian defense minister to Venezuela since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Bolivia and Iran have been developing close military ties since September 2007, when Chavez introduced Ahmadinejad to Bolivian President Evo Morales. As Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency reported in June 2008, “President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's last-year  visit to Bolivia opened a new chapter in expanding relations between the two countries.” These ties initially manifested themselves through increased bilateral trade relations, but have since developed into significant military and nuclear cooperation.
Bolivian support for Iran’s nuclear program began with public statements from Bolivian government officials defending Iran’s enrichment activities. In September 2008, Morales told Iranian Press TV that Bolivia “rejected the intervention of the United Nations Security Council in Iran's nuclear program, saying it ‘lacks any legal or technical justification.’”
In June 2008, Bolivian parliamentarian Gonzalo Lazcano Murillo claimed that Iran‘s nuclear program pursued only "peaceful and scientific" civilian nuclear technology, despite international accusations that Iran had refused to cooperate fully with mandatory UN International Atomic Energy Agency inspections.  Trade and energy agreements between La Paz and Tehran from September 2007 offered similar support for Iran’s nuclear program, declaring "the rights of developing nations to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes."
Bolivia has reportedly also begun providing material support for the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. According to the Israeli intelligence document , Bolivia has been supplying Iran with uranium for use in Iran’s sanctioned nuclear program. Although Bolivian officials have denied these accusations, reports dating from September 2008 indicated that Ahmadinejad was interested in Bolivia’s uranium and lithium reserves for use in Iran’s nuclear program.
By cultivating relationships with its South American friends, the Islamic Republic of Iran may hope to counteract international animosity to its nuclear enrichment activities and thus limit punitive action by the UN. Though Bolivia and Venezuela have reportedly provided some of the more tangible support for the Iranian nuclear program, other Latin American nations including Nicaragua and Cuba have also been building economic and diplomatic relations with Tehran.