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US State Department Rejects Robertson Comments on Chavez

The State Department Tuesday denounced a suggestion by a U.S. religious broadcaster that the United States should assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. A spokesman said the comments of TV clergyman Pat Robertson were inappropriate, and said any suggestion the United States intends hostile action against the Venezuelan leader are baseless.

The Bush administration has had a difficult relationship over the years with the populist, left-leaning Venezuelan President. But it is condemning, and disassociating itself, from the comments of Mr. Robertson, and making clear it has no hostile intent toward Mr. Chavez or his government.

The comments from the State Department followed televised remarks by the conservative Christian religious broadcaster Monday evening in which he said Mr. Chavez posed a danger to the United States and suggested that covert U.S. operatives should, as he put it, "take him out."

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said Mr. Robertson is a private citizen and that the United States government does not share his views.

"These comments are inappropriate," he said. "They do not represent the policy of the United States. And I would add that any accusations, or any idea that we are planning to take hostile action against Venezuela or the Venezuelan government, any ideas to that regard, are totally without fact and baseless."

The Robertson remarks drew an angry response from Venezuela, where the country's Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel labeled the broadcaster's statements terrorist, and said they would put the U.S. government's anti-terrorism policy to the test.

The Venezuelan leader has accused the United States of supporting a 2002 coup attempt against him and has frequently accused U.S. officials of plotting to oust or kill him, charges that have been uniformly denied by Washington.

In his TV commentary late Monday, which followed a critical news report about Mr. Chavez, Mr. Robertson asserted that if the Venezuelan leader thinks the United States is trying to assassinate him, it really ought to go ahead and do it.

Mr. Robertson, who has a wide audience among U.S. Christian conservatives, said President Chavez wants to turn his country into a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism.

Spokesman McCormack drew a sharp distinction between Mr. Robertson's threatening remarks and what he said were long-standing U.S. concerns about some aspects of Venezuela's behavior.

Administration officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on a Latin American trip last week, have been critical of Mr. Chavez' close ties with Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and accused them of promoting unrest in other Latin American countries.

Mr. McCormack, however, said the United States maintains a political dialogue with the Venezuelan government, and hopes it will join in what he termed a positive agenda for the hemisphere.

Venezuela is one of the biggest suppliers of oil to the U.S. market.