Pat Robertson's call for American agents to assassinate President Hugo Chavez is a "terrorist" statement that needs to be investigated by U.S. authorities, Venezuela said Tuesday. In Washington, the administration of President George W. Bush quickly distanced itself from the religious broadcaster.
Robertson's suggestion Monday that the United States "take out" Chavez to stop Venezuela from becoming a "launching pad for communist influence and Muslim extremism" appeared likely to aggravate tensions between the United States and the world's fifth-largest oil exporting country.
Chavez, who was democratically elected, has emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of Bush, accusing the United States of conspiring to topple his government and possibly backing plots to assassinate him. The United States is the top buyer of Venezuelan oil, but Chavez has made it clear he wants to decrease the country's dependence on the U.S. market by finding other buyers.
Winding up a visit to Cuba, Chavez said in response to questions from reporters about Roberston's remarks that such comments did not matter to him and that he would prefer to "talk about life."
"I don't even know who that person is," said Chavez, standing next to President Fidel Castro at Havana's airport.
In Venezuela, however, Vice-President Jose Vicente Rangel said the U.S. response to Robertson would be a test of its anti-terrorist policy and that Venezuela was studying its legal options.
"It's a huge hypocrisy to maintain this discourse against terrorism and at the same time, in the heart of that country," Rangel is quoted as saying by the AP.
Pravda.ru reported earlier, that Rangel called the statements "terrorist" and said Venezuela was studying its legal options after Robertson said on his TV show Monday that Chavez should be killed.
Asked about his vice-president's statements, Chavez said, "We haven't heard anything." Castro, referring to Robertson's words, said "Only God can punish crimes of such magnitude."
Rangel called Robertson "a man who seems to have quite a bit of influence in that country," adding that the comments "reveal that religious fundamentalism is one of the great problems facing humanity in these times."
At the Pentagon, Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld said when asked about Robertson's comments, "Our department doesn't do that kind of thing. It's against the law. He's a private citizen. Private citizens say all kinds of things all the time."