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By Teresa Cespedes
COCHABAMBA, Bolivia (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Saturday Iran is helping his country explore for uranium, but stressed his government would only seek to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
Venezuela says it is working with Russia to develop nuclear energy for non-violent purposes, and the country's mining minister said last month Iranian officials were helping to look for uranium, with preliminary tests indicating big deposits.
"We're working with several countries, with Iran, with Russia. We're responsible for what we're doing, we're in control," Chavez told reporters in the central Bolivian region of Cochabamba during a gathering of leftist Latin American presidents.
U.S. President Barack Obama and other western leaders have accused Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, and Washington has expressed concern about Venezuela's increasingly close ties with the Islamic Republic.
Iran supplies the oil-rich South American country with tractors and consumer goods, including bicycles and dairy products, and last month Chavez agreed to supply Iran with 20,000 barrels per day of gasoline.
Chavez said Venezuela would only use nuclear energy for peaceful means, adding that neither Venezuela nor Iran was planning to build a nuclear bomb.
"What we propose is for nuclear bombs to be eliminated. Venezuela will never build a nuclear bomb," he said, adding that Venezuela had been unfairly singled out for planning to exploit uranium.
"What about those that already have atomic bombs? ... Why aren't the governments of France, the United States, China and Russia under pressure to eliminate their atomic bombs?", he asked.
Chavez said his government considers the development of a uranium mining industry as "strategic." Venezuela has known about the presence of deposits of the nuclear fuel, but it has not studied them extensively and uranium is not mined.
Latin American leftist presidents, Chavez, Ecuador's Rafael Correa and Bolivia's Evo Morales are fierce critics of U.S. foreign policies and have forged close ties with Iran and Russia in recent years.
(Additional reporting by Diego Ore; writing by Eduardo Garcia; editing by Todd Eastham)