Televangelist Robertson Urges U.S. Hit on Chavez

Televangelist Pat Robertson stirs new political controversy by calling for the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. His remarks have brought strong condemnation from Venezuela. And the State and Defense Departments said Robertson's comments do not represent those of the U.S. government. Chavez has a close relationship with Cuba's Fidel Castro and some see him as a hemispheric threat.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

There was a mini international incident today.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

It started with these comments from the founder of the Christian Coalition, Pat Robertson, on his television show "The 700 Club" yesterday. He was talking about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Chavez has charged that the US is plotting his assassination.

(Soundbite of "The 700 Club")

Reverend PAT ROBERTSON (Host, "The 700 Club"): If he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war.

BLOCK: On "The 700 Club," Robertson said that Chavez was making Venezuela into, in Robertson's words, `a launching pad for Communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent.' Robertson suggested assassination by covert operatives.

(Soundbite of "The 700 Club")

Rev. ROBERTSON: We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability.

SIEGEL: Chavez's fiery speeches have, in fact, been peppered with descriptions of what he calls `US imperialist attempts' to impose itself on both Venezuela and the rest of the world.

BLOCK: And Chavez has made few friends in Washington, thanks in part to his close relationship with Cuba and Fidel Castro.

SIEGEL: Of course, the Venezuelan government did not take kindly to Robertson's suggestions that their president be assassinated. The country's vice president said Robertson's statements were `criminal and terrorist.' The Venezuelan ambassador to the US, Bernardo Alvarez, held a press conference at the embassy in Washington.

Ambassador BERNARDO ALVAREZ (Venezuelan Ambassador to the US): Venezuela demands that the US abide by international and domestic law and respects our country and its president. Pat Robertson's statement must be condemned in the strongest terms by the Bush administration, and we are concerned about the safety of our president.

BLOCK: The Robertson statement came up today during regular briefings at the State Department and the Pentagon.

SIEGEL: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld denied there were any plans to assassinate Chavez.

Secretary DONALD RUMSFELD (Department of Defense): Certainly it's against the law. Our department doesn't do that type of thing. He's a private citizen; private citizens say all kinds of things all the time.

BLOCK: Over at the State Department, spokesman Sean McCormack had this to say about Pat Robertson.

Mr. SEAN McCORMACK (Department of State): We do not share his view, and his comments are inappropriate. And as we have said before, any allegations that we are planning to take hostile action against the Venezuelan government are completely baseless and without fact.

SIEGEL: This is not the first time the State Department has had to respond to controversial comments from Pat Robertson. In October of 2003, he was talking about the State Department on "The 700 Club" when he said--and we quote--"Maybe we need a very small nuke thrown off on Foggy Bottom to shake things up." That statement was called despicable by then State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

BLOCK: Robertson also once commented that feminism, quote, "encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."

SIEGEL: Both Robertson and Chavez are known widely for speaking passionately and have never shied away from controversy.

BLOCK: Today, Pat Robertson had no additional comments to make on his statements from yesterday. When those statements were mentioned to the Venezuelan president, Chavez made what could be seen as a backhanded insult to the world-famous televangelist. Chavez said he didn't know who Pat Robertson is.

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