Firebrand Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Thursday said he no longer detected devil's "sulfur" in the United States, but the smell of "hope."
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez speaks at a news conference following his remarks to the 64th United Nations General Assembly, at the U.N. headquarters in New York, September 24, 2009.
The colorful Latin American strongman famously called then-president George W. Bush the "devil" during the annual meeting of the United Nations in 2006 and said that Bush left the UN podium stinking of sulfur.
But in his speech this year, Chavez went out of his way to embrace President Barack Obama, even urging him to follow Venezuelan-style socialism.
"Yesterday he spoke here and it no longer smells of sulfur. It smells of something better: hope," Chavez said.
"Obama, come and join the socialists," Chavez quipped in the address to the UN General Assembly. "We invite you to join the axis of evil."
Chavez urged Obama to end the embargo on communist-run Cuba and to refrain from deploying military bases in Colombia.
The eccentric Venezuelan leader is known for marathon speeches at home and his UN address lasted more than an hour.
He drew laughs when he promised not to take as long as another US bugbear, Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, who addressed the assembly for more than 90 minutes on Wednesday.
But it wasn't all love from Chavez for Obama.
He accused the Pentagon of involvement in the coup in Honduras and asked if Obama had also had a hand. "Who are you, Obama?" he mocked.
On the problem of nuclear proliferation, Chavez had a neat, if unlikely solution, telling the United States: "Destroy your own weapons!"
Touching on Colombia, a close US ally, Chavez accused Washington of a "threat to peace" with plans to build seven military bases there.
Even in what was for him a relatively brisk speech, Chavez found time to refer to influences ranging from Noam Chomsky to Fidel Castro and Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and no less than Karl Marx, whom he lauded as the "Einstein of politics."
Inviting Obama to become a socialist, Chavez said that Latin America had led the way over the last decade in a "revolution that transcends ideology."
"This revolution is the start of salvation for a world threatened by capitalism," he said, calling capitalism "the road to extinction of the human species."
Meanwhile, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe used his UN speech Wednesday to defend the deal to allow stationing of US troops.
Colombia has pledged to allow the United States to use the bases for help in fighting insurgencies and drug traffickers. The pact has yet to be signed.
Tensions have flared in Latin America since the deal emerged, with Chavez warning "winds of war" were blowing across the continent.
Fears of an arms race in the region were raised further in recent weeks as Caracas purchased Russian military hardware worth some four billion dollars.