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Venezuela May Sell U.S. Jets to Iran

Venezuela's military is considering the possibility of selling its fleet of U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets to another country, perhaps Iran, in response to a U.S. ban on arms sales to President Hugo Chavez's government, a Venezuelan military official said Tuesday.

Gen. Alberto Muller, a senior adviser to Chavez, told The Associated Press he had recommended to the defense minister that Venezuela consider selling the 21 jets to another country.

Muller said he thought it was worthwhile to consider "the feasibility of a negotiation with Iran for the sale of those planes."

Even before the United States announced the ban on arms sales Monday, Washington had stopped selling Venezuela sensitive upgrades for the F-16s.

Muller said officials have been considering options for replacing the F-16s for some time. He said the military was considering Russian Sukhoi Su-35 jet fighters, "which is the best jet fighter there is in the world right now."

Chavez has previously warned he could share the U.S.-made F-16s with Cuba and China — and look into buying new jets from Russia or China — because he said Washington was not supplying parts for the planes as agreed.

U.S. officials disputed that accusation, saying they were living up to their commitments under the deal.

U.S. officials have said Venezuela is bound under the 1982 contract to consult with Washington before transferring any F-16s to another country.

"The recommendation that I'm making to the minister, and which I will make to the president at the appropriate time, is that the (F-16s) be sold to a third party because if they aren't complying with their part of the agreement, we don't have any obligation to comply with our part," Muller told the AP.

The U.S. State Department, in announcing the ban on arms sales Monday, cited Venezuela's close relations with Iran and Cuba, both of which it deems state sponsors of terrorism.

Venezuela originally purchased its fleet of F-16s in 1983. Until Chile acquired a fleet in 2003, Venezuela was the only Latin American country to possess the warplanes made by Lockheed Martin.

Chavez has accused the United States of breaching its contract to supply parts for the planes and of also pressuring other countries not to help maintain them.

U.S. officials say the agreement under which the planes were sold does not require the United States to supply parts indefinitely to Venezuela or to upgrade the planes. U.S. officials say periodic amendments to the F-16 contract have authorized the limited sale of replacement parts to Venezuela in the past.