It was no ordinary summit, this one. The principals call each other "brother," and they brand their mutual antagonist, the United States, a fount of "imperialism."
Such was the style of conviviality at last week's confab in Iran between that country's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and his counterpart from Venezuela, Hugo Chávez. The two leaders top the Bush administration's rogue watchlist, with Iran pegged as moving to develop nuclear weapons and backing terroristsand Chávez's Venezuela seen as subverting a onetime democracy and stirring up anti-U.S. forces in the Western Hemisphere.
There was some business to be done. Chávez and Ahmadinejad inaugurated a methanol plant on the Persian Gulfanother joint project between the two oil-producing powers. And that celebration of industrial partnership occasioned a rhetorical counterthrust to President Bush's now-faded declaration about an "axis of evil": Posters proclaimed, "Iran and Venezuelathe axis of unity."
And yet, when Ahmadinejad and Chávez break breadand they have several times nowthe effect is more political roadshow than world-power shift. The strategic impact of their pointed friendship is questionable, to say the least. Still, the prickly pair clearly delight in getting a rise out of Uncle Sam. "United, we are going to help defeat U.S. imperialism, and that's why...they get worried in Washington when they see the two of us shaking hands," Chávez said in Tehran.
In good brotherly fashion, Ahmadinejad complimented "the wise and revolutionary administration" of Chávez. With Iran facing the prospect of rougher sanctions and more opprobrium from the United Nations Security Council for its nuclear drive, Ahmadinejad had to find it a relief to host one of the few world leaders who are sanguine about a nuclear Iran.
When it comes to tweaking Washington, these two show that they are indeed in the superpower class.
This story appears in the July 16, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.