CARACAS, Venezuela – The Rev. Jesse Jackson (search) offered support for President Hugo Chavez (search) on Sunday, saying a call for his assassination by a U.S. religious broadcaster was a criminal act and that Washington and Venezuela should work out their differences through diplomacy.
The U.S. civil rights leader condemned last week's suggestion by Pat Robertson (search) that American agents should kill the leftist Venezuelan leader, calling the conservative commentator's statements "immoral" and "illegal."
Jackson urged U.S. authorities to take action, and said the U.S. government must choose "diplomacy over any threats of sabotage or isolation or assassination."
"We must choose a civilized policy of rational conversation," he told reporters at a news conference.
Chavez, a self-styled "revolutionary," has repeatedly accused President Bush's government of planning to overthrow him. He warned Friday that some American leaders have considered killing him.
U.S. officials have repeatedly denied such claims.
Robertson's comments last week have increased already tense relations between Caracas and Washington. He called for Chavez's assassination on his TV show "The 700 Club," saying the United States should "take him out" because the Venezuelan leader poses a danger to the region.
Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition of America and a supporter of Bush's re-election bid, later apologized.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission "must prohibit such threats on the airwaves," said Jackson, who arrived Saturday for a visit along with members of his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.
"I hope the FCC does not remain silent regarding what Robertson said," Jackson added.
Representatives of the U.S. government have expressed concern that Chavez and his close ally, Cuban leader Fidel Castro, are fomenting instability in Latin America. Chavez and Castro deny it, instead blaming the United States for meddling in the affairs of Latin nations.
In a speech to Venezuela's National Assembly, Jackson said every country has a right to self-determination, and touched on subjects from poverty to Martin Luther King Jr.'s role in the civil rights struggle of American blacks.
"Though our histories are burdensome with pain and often bitter memories, we must have the strength to get ahead and not just get even," Jackson said to a rousing applause from Venezuelan lawmakers.
Jackson later met and shook hands with Chavez during the Venezuelan leader's weekly radio and television program.
"Reverend Jackson, you can be sure that we will continue fighting for the ideas of Martin Luther King, for Christ the Redeemer's idea of loving one another and building a society of equals through our peaceful and democratic revolution," said Chavez.
He told Jackson he wanted to discuss the possibility of sending oil at preferential terms to poor communities in the United States.
Since taking office in 1999, Chavez has survived a 2002 coup, a 2003 strike and a recall referendum last year. He is up for re-election next year, and recent polls suggest he has a 70 percent approval rating.