WASHINGTON — The United States voiced alarm Monday that Venezuela's weapons purchases may be fueling a Latin American arms race after a deal between Caracas and Moscow to buy tanks and anti-aircraft rockets.
"We have concerns in general about Venezuela's stated desire to increase its arms build-up, which we think poses a serious challenge to stability in the Western Hemisphere," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters.
"What they are looking to purchase and what they are purchasing outpaces all other countries in South America," he said.
In Caracas on Sunday, Venezuela said it had obtained a 2.2-billion-dollar credit from Russia to purchase nearly 100 T72 tanks and a series of anti-aircraft rocket systems from its strategic ally.
Kelly was responding to questions over reports that Venezuela's anti-US President Hugo Chavez also wanted Russia's help to pursue a peaceful nuclear program and about possible fears Caracas would import nuclear or other technology from Iran.
"We urge Venezuela to be transparent in its purchases, and very clear about the purposes of these purchases," Kelly said at the daily press briefing.
"And we're also very concerned that they put in place very clear procedures and safeguards that these arms are not diverted to any irregular or illegal organizations," he added.
Chavez has long expressed a desire to improve his nation's military with Moscow's help, and the substantial deal comes amid rising tensions between Caracas and Bogota over Colombia's decision to allow the United States access to several military bases on its territory.
The firebrand leftist has repeatedly criticized the United States, but has insisted that the latest purchase was not directed against any other country.
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