Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been given a red-carpet welcome at the Venezuelan president's palace in Caracas.

Hugo Chavez greeted his Middle East ally and conveyed a powerful, unmistakable message to the US and the West who have long regarded the two leaders as mavericks. Venezuela was the first destination of Ahmadinejad's four-nation tour. He is also due to visit Cuba, Nicaragua and Ecuador.

Ahmadinejad's tour assumes immense political significance in the face of growing hostilities between Iran and the West over the country's alleged nuclear weapons programme.

"Iran hasn't invaded anyone. Who has dropped thousands and thousands of bombs including atomic bombs?" Chavez said. "They present us as aggressors," he said, referring to the US.

Chavez is fighting cancer. His recent allegation that the CIA was responsible for spreading cancer among left-wing leaders in South America has sparked angry reactions from Washington.

Ahmadinejad called the Venezuelan president "the champion of fighting against imperialism".

"We will always be together," he added.