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Former Iranian Missile Expert Heads Venezuelan UAV Initiative

A one-time Iranian ballistic missile technician now heads Venezuela's unmanned aerial vehicle initiative, prompting concerns over a possible covert effort in the South American nation to pursue extended-range delivery systems, Wired magazine reported on Monday (see GSN, Dec. 24, 2008).

Ramin Keshavarz, who previously worked for Iran's Defense Industries Organization, manages the effort at a Venezuelan air installation.

U.S. government personnel suspect Tehran has provided Venezuela with a supply of unmanned aerial vehicles concealed in a shipment to the site. Still, the nation gained only six such aircraft.

The UAV effort involves "excessively high" funding levels, the magazine said.

Separately, three of Venezuela's six experimental unmanned aerial vehicles -- the Justiciero, Vengador and Venezolano aircraft -- are under "special suspicion" among U.S. government insiders of including capabilities beyond standard UAV features.

“Of course we’re doing [the UAV initiative], and we have the right to. We are a free and independent country,” Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said last week.

Chavez said his country has no "plans to harm anyone,” and the effort is one of several established “with the help of different countries including China, Russia, Iran and other allied countries.”

Venezuela's longest-distance unmanned aircraft could travel 1,200 miles, possibly placing Florida within its reach.

“Pretty soon someone is probably going to say there’s an atomic bomb on the tip of it,” Chavez said sarcastically.

One school of thought explains such collaboration as an instance of Venezuela hosting Iranian operations in opposition to the United States, but the theory neither acknowledges the unrelated benefits of such joint efforts nor political differences between Iranian and Venezuelan top officials, according to Wired.

Still, any Iranian ballistic delivery system preparation in Venezuela would take place beyond International Atomic Energy Agency auspices, the magazine says (Robert Beckhusen, Wired, June 18).

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