Venezuela: Robertson's Comments 'Criminal'

Venezuela condemned American religious broadcaster Pat Robertson (search) for suggesting President Hugo Chavez (search) should be killed, saying he committed a crime that is punishable in the United States.

Officials in Washington distanced themselves from Robertson, saying his statements did not reflect the position of the U.S. government.

Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel (search) said Venezuela was considering legal action against Robertson for saying U.S. agents should "take out" Chavez, an outspoken critic of President Bush and close ally of Cuban leader Fidel Castro (search).

"There is a legal measure in the United States that condemns and punishes statements of this nature," Rangel said, referring to laws dealing with television broadcasts.

He said the U.S. response to Robertson's suggestion on Monday that the U.S. assassinate Chavez would be a test of its anti-terrorist policy.

"What is the U.S. government going to do regarding this criminal statement? The ball is in the U.S. court," Rangel said.

"It's a huge hypocrisy to maintain this discourse against terrorism and at the same time, in the heart of that country, there are entirely terrorist statements like those," he added.

Robertson said Chavez should be assassinated to stop Venezuela, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, from becoming a "launching pad for communist influence and Muslim extremism."

The statements made by the conservative commentator could exacerbate already tense relations between Caracas and Washington.

When reporters in Cuba asked Chavez about Robertson's comments, he said he would prefer to "talk about life."

"What they say doesn't matter to me a bit," said Chavez.

Castro, who was stood next to Chavez stroking his beard, referred to Robertson's statements saying he thought "only God can punish crimes of such magnitude."

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) said he knew of no consideration ever being given to the idea of assassinating Chavez.

"Our department doesn't do that kind of thing. It's against the law," he said.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called Robertson's remarks "inappropriate."

"This is not the policy of the United States government. We do not share his views," McCormack said.

Political assassination was made off-limits by former President Ford in an executive order in the mid-1970s.

On Monday, Robertson said on the Christian Broadcast Network's "The 700 Club": "We have the ability to take him [Chavez] 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," he continued. "It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with."

Robertson, a founder of the Christian Coalition of America (search) and a supporter of Bush, has made controversial statements in the past. In October 2003, he suggested that the State Department be blown up with a nuclear device.

Chavez has irritated U.S. officials with his fiery rhetoric against American "imperialism" and his increasingly close ties to U.S. enemies such as Cuba and Iran. He says he is leading Venezuela toward socialism.

Chavez has accused Washington of backing a short-lived 2002 coup against him, a charge U.S. officials have denied. The former paratrooper is up for re-election next year, and polls suggest he is the favorite.