WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday defended the Obama administration’s bid for rapprochement with leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, saying that the policy of isolating him has not “worked very well.”
“We’ve isolated him, so he’s gone elsewhere. I mean, he’s a very sociable guy. He’s going to look for friends where he can find them. And so he’s finding friends in places we’d prefer him not to find friends,” Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee, alluding to Venezuela’s growing ties to Iran, China and Russia.
“So eight years of isolation has resulted in the kinds of outreach that, I think, both you and I find troubling. You know, our belief is, if it hasn’t worked, why keep it going? Let’s see what else might be possible,” the secretary said.
“And during our encounters with President Chávez (at last week’s Summit of the Americas), we agreed to consider exchanging ambassadors. I think that’s a positive development,” Clinton said.
She made her remarks in response to the concerns expressed by Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) over the “associations” of Chávez with Russia, China and Iran, and over the Venezuela-led “coalition” the lawmaker suggested could threaten U.S. security.
At the hearing, Clinton defended Obama’s goal of improving the image and the relations of the United States around the world.
Many Republicanos have criticized Obama’s budding rapprochement with Chávez, in particular the handshake the pair exchanged during last weekend’s summit in the capital of Trinidad and Tobago.
Aware of the criticism, the Obama administration has insisted that those type of rapprochements do not put either the security or the national interests of the United States at risk.
Chávez expelled the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela last September in solidarity with Bolivian President Evo Morales’ expulsion of Washington’s envoy in La Paz, who he accused of meddling in his country’s internal affairs.
The U.S. government responded by booting out the Bolivian and Venezuelan ambassadors in Washington.
Chávez and Clinton briefly discussed the restoration of full diplomatic relations at the Americas summit, and the Venezuelan leader said he had already designated veteran diplomat and former Foreign Minister Roy Chaderton to serve as Caracas’ next envoy to the United States.
Under the Bush administration, Washington repeatedly denounced Chávez as a would-be dictator and a destabilizing force in Latin America, while the Venezuelan leader missed few opportunities to denounce U.S. “imperialism.”
Despite the persistent bad blood, Venezuela remains a key oil supplier for the United States and a customer for U.S. exports. EFE