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Venezuelan defense minister to discuss arms deals on Moscow trip

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Venezuelan Defense Minister Orlando Maniglia will raise the possibility of purchasing weapons from Russia during a visit to Moscow in July, a senior diplomat said.

MEXICO CITY, May 20 (RIA Novosti) - Venezuelan Defense Minister Orlando Maniglia will raise the possibility of purchasing weapons from Russia during a visit to Moscow in July, a senior diplomat said.

The move comes as relations worsen between South America's largest oil producer and the United States, which slapped a ban on arms sales to Venezuela at the beginning of this week, saying that the South American country has an intelligence-sharing relationship with Iran and Cuba, both of which it considers state sponsors of terrorism.

A Venezuelan television channel quoted the country's Ambassador to Moscow, Alexis Navarro Rojas, as saying that the Venezuelan government was preparing for negotiations with Moscow on acquiring Su-35 Flanker multi-role fighter planes to replace its current contingent of 21 American F-16s.

A high-ranking Venezuelan general also said this week that the country would look to bring in more Russian planes to replace its American ones after the United States imposed the arms sales ban.

"We are considering procurement of Russia's Su-35 fighter aircraft to replace F-16s, after the United States banned weapons exports to Venezuela," General Alberto Muller Rojas said. "At the moment the Su-35 is world's best multi-role fighter."

Venezuela bought dozens of civilian and military helicopters from Russia at the start of 2006, as well as 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles, in a move that drew sharp criticism from Washington.

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