VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson apologized Wednesday for calling for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, only hours after he denied saying Chavez should be killed.
“Is it right to call for assassination?” Robertson said. “No, and I apologize for that statement. I spoke in frustration that we should accommodate the man who thinks the U.S. is out to kill him.”
Chavez, whose country is the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter, has emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of President Bush. He accuses the United States of conspiring to topple his government and possibly backing plots to assassinate him. U.S. officials have called the accusations ridiculous.
On Monday’s telecast of his Christian Broadcasting Network show “The 700 Club,” Robertson had said: “You know, I don’t know about this doctrine of assassination, but 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, and I don’t think any oil shipments will stop.”
Covert operations 'a whole lot easier'
He continued: “We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don’t need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.”
On Wednesday, he initially denied having called for Chavez to be killed and said The Associated Press had misinterpreted his remarks.
“I didn’t say 'assassination.’ I said our special forces should ’take him out,”’ Robertson said on his show. “’Take him out’ could be a number of things including kidnapping.”
When the AP had called Robertson on Tuesday for elaboration, spokeswoman Angell Watts said Robertson would not do interviews and had no statement about his remarks. He also declined several interview requests Wednesday.
He later issued the apology for the comments on his Web site, but he defended the underlying logic.
"I said before the war in Iraq began that the wisest course would be to wage war against Saddam Hussein, not the whole nation of Iraq," Robertson says in the statement. "When faced with the threat of a comparable dictator in our own hemisphere, would it not be wiser to wage war against one person rather than finding ourselves down the road locked in another bitter struggle with a whole nation?"
On Tuesday, the State Department called Robertson’s remarks “inappropriate.”
Caracas demands legal action
The Venezuelan foreign ministry said it was not satisfied with U.S. officials’ dismissal of Robertson’s remarks and wanted the White House to take legal action.
“This public call to assassinate a head of state, considered a crime by all modern legislation, is prosecutable by its very nature. That is what the civilized world is expecting of U.S. authorities,” the Venezuelan government said on Wednesday.
The White House remained silent despite calls by Venezuela and religious leaders including the Rev. Jesse Jackson for Bush to repudiate Robertson’s remarks. However, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Tuesday said political assassination was against the law and was not U.S. policy.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called Robertson’s remarks “inappropriate” and said any ideas of hostile action against Chavez or Venezuela were “without fact and baseless.”
Venezuelan officials said Robertson’s remarks, while those of a private citizen, took on more significance given his ties to President Bush’s Christian-right supporters.
“Mr. Robertson has been one of this president’s staunchest allies. His statement demands the strongest condemnation by the White House,” Venezuela’s ambassador to the United States Bernardo Alvarez said.
Chavez was elected in 1998, survived a referendum on his rule last year, and is seen to have a strong chance of winning re-election in 2006.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.