From Newsday, Sept. 19 (emphasis added):
BLOCK 7, AYACUCHO PETROLEUM FIELD, Venezuela — The Islamic world may be roiling over remarks by the pope, but in this remote patch of eastern Venezuela, President Hugo Chávez suggested yesterday that a little revolutionary fervor — and perhaps a lot of oil — is all it takes to unite Christians and Muslims.
“Islam is not the opiate of the masses, it is the alarm clock, the combustible of the revolution,” declared the leftist Chávez, who is known for his flamboyant oratory, during a stop here with Iran’s radical Muslim President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In a similar fashion, “authentic” Christians “confronted the Roman Empire and … religious hierarchy,” continued Chávez, who often quotes God but also rails against the church in his Roman Catholic country. “Christianity is fundamentally revolutionary, like Islam.”
Chávez spoke after the two donned hard hats and clasped hands in a raised fist as they inaugurated their first jointly run oil well — a publicity stunt that bore a strong Madison Avenue-style sheen despite abundant jabs at the United States.
Ahmadinejad, who appeared slight and subdued alongside his burly, boisterous counterpart, said later in Caracas that he “respects” Pope Benedict XVI, despite his having recited a 14th-century Byzantine emperor’s comments that depicted some aspects of Islam as evil or violent.
The pope’s comments may have been taken out of context, Ahmadinejad said. Still, he added in Farsi through a Spanish translator, “All the wars that have occurred in the 20th century have been caused by Europe and the United States. So … who is seeking war?”
Ahmadinejad’s two-day trip, his first to Venezuela, cemented the countries’ petro-political ties and served as a forum for both leaders to repeat their mantra that the main force dividing the world is not religion but U.S. hegemony.
Iran’s nuclear ambitions could take center stage today when President George W. Bush and Ahmadinejad separately address the United Nations General Assembly. At the news conference last night, Ahmadinejad repeated warnings that the United States should not consider force in stopping the program, saying: “We have the potential to defend it.”
Venezuelan officials also announced that Iran and Venezuela will build a petroleum refinery in Syria, another nation on the White House blacklist, in their strategy to build a “multipolar” counterpoint to U.S. influence with their petroleum profits.
“Collaboration between Iran and Venezuela puts a definitive end to the lie and myth of our enemies, that developing countries must obey the superpower to develop or progress,” Ahmadinejad said at the oil field.
Iran and Venezuela are the world’s second- and fifth-largest oil producers, respectively. Under several new accords between Chávez and Ahmadinejad, Iran is helping Venezuela produce petrochemical products and drill for oil. Iran also plans to help Venezuela measure its petroleum reserves beneath the Orinoco River Basin, which a recent survey determined may hold the world’s largest heavy crude reserves.
The United States buys most of Venezuela’s oil, but Chávez is actively courting customers and investors elsewhere. He also is increasing controls and fees for U.S. and other multinationals working here.