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US Warns Venezuela on Weapons Purchase

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The U.S. State Department is questioning Venezuela's need to buy billions of dollars in weapons from Russia, voicing concern the arms may end up elsewhere in Latin America.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley Monday said that while Russia and Venezuela have the right to pursue relations, the United States is hard-pressed to see what legitimate defense needs Venezuela has for the equipment.  He said if Venezuela is going to increase its military hardware, the U.S. does not want to see the weapons migrate into other parts of the hemisphere.

The United States has previously cautioned Venezuela against its arms buildup, warning its actions could endanger regional stability.

Earlier Monday, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said his country could sell as much as $5 billion worth of weapons to Venezuela.  Mr. Putin visited Venezuela last week to sign military and financial agreements with President Hugo Chavez.

The two countries also formalized a deal to establish a joint venture for oil and gas exploration in eastern Venezuela.

Venezuela has forged close ties with Russia in recent years and spent more than $4 billion on Russian-made weapons.  Venezuela relies on China and Russia as its main military suppliers.

Russia also agreed last week to help Venezuela draw up plans to build a nuclear power plant.  President Chavez said the goal of the plant is to develop nuclear energy for "peaceful purposes" and not to develop a bomb.

Separately, the Kremlin announced Monday that Russian President Dmitri Medvedev will travel to Argentina next week on an official visit, and then head to Brazil to take part in a summit of the world's emerging powers.

President Medvedev was set to travel to South America from Washington, where he was scheduled to take part in a summit on nuclear security.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.

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