Chavez jokes about missiles
Caracas - President Hugo Chavez mocked US concerns about Venezuela's ties with Iran on Tuesday, joking that while his adversaries worry about Iranian-made missiles lining his country's coast his government is actually erecting windmills there.
The socialist leader at first said missiles could be launched at Washington and other US cities, then held up a photograph of windmills along the South American country's coast, saying "here they are".
"They are pointing directly at Washington," Chavez joked during a meeting with top government officials that was broadcast on state television.
Chavez - an outspoken critic of Washington's foreign policy - has previously poked fun at fears over Venezuela's increasingly close relationship with Iran, saying that in a joint bicycle factory the two countries are building the "atomic bicycle".
Chavez also condemned US sanctions against Venezuela's state oil company for doing business with Iran.
President Barack Obama's administration slapped sanctions on PDVSA and six other companies from other countries for doing business with Iran that helps fund its nuclear programme. The State Department said PDVSA delivered at least two cargoes of refined petroleum products worth about $50m to Iran between December and March.
Venezuela's close ties with Iran have raised concerns among officials in Washington, who believe Iran is working on a nuclear weapons program.
Chavez has staunchly defended Iran's nuclear energy programme, saying it is for peaceful uses only.
Under the sanctions announced last week, Petroleos de Venezuela, or PDVSA, will be barred from any US government contracts, US import-export financing, and export licenses for sensitive technology. But PDVSA will not be banned from selling oil to the United States or dealing with its US subsidiaries.
Chavez said his government is preparing contingency plans to confront the possibility of more severe sanctions.
He did not provide any details of the contingency plans, but Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez has hinted that PDVSA could seek to accelerate initiatives aimed at diversifying PDVSA's clientele, exporting more crude to China and other countries to reduce Venezuela's dependence on the United States.
Venezuela is one of the United States' main suppliers of petroleum.