September 12, 2008
Sen. John McCain today blasted the expulsion of the U.S. ambassador from Venezuela -- and at the same time the Republican presidential nominee sharply attacked his Democratic rival for suggesting he would meet with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez during his first year in office.
Relations between the two countries have been particularly strained in recent days as U.S. officials have accused Venezuela of falling short in the war on drugs, including claiming three top Chavez aides of helping Colombian guerrillas traffic cocaine and topple the Colombian government. Chavez expelled the ambassador Thursday -- and the U.S quickly ordered the Venezuelan ambassador to leave -- after Bolivian President Evo Morales ousted the U.S. ambassador after claiming Washington was plotting to overthrow his government.
"I am deeply disappointed by the decision of Venezuela's government to expel U.S. Ambassador Duddy," McCain said in a statement "This diplomatic escalation, which follows Bolivia's expulsion of the American ambassador there, reminds us anew of the dangerous trends in our own hemisphere."
McCain asserted that he has "worked with America's allies in order to strengthen our relationships in this crucial region, one to which so many American citizens have deep economic, family and cultural ties."
By contrast, he said, Sen. Barak Obama "calls for meeting directly and unconditionally with the region's worst tyrants.... Rather than focus on strengthening America's ties with friends and allies, he has pledged to sit down with dictators in Venezuela and Cuba in the first year of his presidency. Such a course of action would undermine our democratic allies and embolden anti-American dictators. The United States, and our partners throughout Latin America, cannot afford Senator Obama's brand of unilateralism that rewards Hugo Chavez and his dangerous despotism."
In July 2007, Obama was asked during the CNN-YouTube debate a specific question: "Would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?"
Obama answered, "I would" -- generating controversy and grief for the candidate ever since.
In May, Obama amended his remarks to downplay the notion of meetings within the first year and making it clear an agenda would need to be set before any presidential summit: "The point is that I would not refuse to meet until they agree to every position that we want." he said. "But that doesn't mean that we would not have preparation, and the preparation would involve starting with low level -- lower-level diplomatic contacts.... But what I have said is that at some point I would be willing to meet."