July 30, 2008
WASHINGTON -- Sen. Arlen Specter said Wednesday he hopes to meet with Cuban President Raul Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during a trip to Latin America in August.
"I'm a firm believer in dialogue," the Pennsylvania Republican told reporters.
His announcement evoked memories of Campaign 2008 arguments earlier this year over when and under what circumstances a president should sit down with adversaries. Hillary Rodman Clinton for a time accused rival Barack Obama of embracing too-lenient a stance on such face-to-face meetings, a charge that Obama, now the nominee in waiting, repeatedly rebuffed. Presumed Republican nominee John McCain also has asserted that Obama would too eagerly embrace one-on-one face-offs with adversaries.
Speaking to reporters on a wide range of subjects Wednesday, Specter said his experience has been that meeting with world leaders leads to change.
"I think President McCain will understand ... an independent senator that has a different point of view," he said when asked about his view vs. McCain's on the matter.
Specter said he met with Fidel Castro during previous stops in Cuba and talked to him about drug interdiction. He said he'd like to follow that up with Raul Castro, as well as to discuss trade and tourism during a visit there. He said he believes the United States is "on the cusp" of re-establishing formal relations with Cuba.
"I've been to Cuba three times and I think the chances are really on the horizon for re-establishing relations with Cuba now that Fidel Castro is no longer in charge," Specter said.
He said he wrote a letter to Raul Castro requesting a meeting, but has not heard back.
The senator said he met with Chavez in August 2005 in Venezuela and as part of his visit, a meeting was arranged with a Venezuelan official and a U.S. ambassador that led to the two countries developing a protocol for mutual cooperation on drug cases.