WASHINGTON – A senior State Department official said Thursday Venezuela's leftist government is "increasingly out of step with the world," citing the country's support for Iraqi insurgents and its close ties with Cuba, Iran, North Korea and other "radical rogue regimes."
Frank Urbancic, the No. 2 official in the department's counterterrorism office, said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez "roots for the terrorists" in Iraq who are fighting the elected government there.
Testifying before the House International Relations subcommittee on terrorism, Urbancic said Venezuela has pledged to defend Iran in the event of military attacks. It also has backed Iran, he said, against efforts by the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency to curb Iran's suspected nuclear weapons development program.
On North Korea, Urbancic said Venezuela backed Pyongyang's recent launch of a long-range ballistic missile and noted that Chavez plans a visit to that country soon.
"In the international community's fight against terrorism, Venezuela is a liability," Urbancic said. He reaffirmed U.S. opposition to Venezuela's bid for a non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.
Chavez has his own list of grievances against President George W. Bush, calling him a terrorist, an alcoholic and an imperialist. He has denounced the U.S.-led war in Iraq, and repeatedly accused the U.S. of trying to overthrow him to seize Venezuela's vast oil reserves.
Subcommittee Chairman Ed Royce expressed concern about Russia's decision to sell Venezuela 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles and to allow Venezuela to produce these weapons on its soil.
"It is the fear of many that these new weapons, or the weapons they replace, will end up arming left-wing terrorist groups throughout the continent," Royce said.
He noted that Venezuela has not yet been designated a state sponsor of terrorism but instead is described as "not cooperating fully" with U.S. anti-terrorism efforts. The designation precludes the U.S. sale or licensing of defense articles and services to Venezuela.
Charles Shapiro, a State Department official and former ambassador to Venezuela, said the U.S. embassy in Caracas has submitted 130 requests to Venezuelan officials for information on suspected activities by terrorists.