MIAMI — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney lashed out at President Barack Obama on Wednesday after he dismissed the idea that Iranian ally Venezuela poses a security threat to the United States.
Under leftist leader Hugo Chavez, an outspoken critic of US policy, Venezuela has developed close ties with Washington’s foes Cuba and Iran.
“It is disturbing to see him downplaying the threat posed to US interests by a regime that openly wishes us ill,” Romney declared, in a strongly-worded statement that branded Obama’s stance “stunning and shocking”.
The president’s comments came during an interview with Miami’s Spanish-language America TeVe broadcaster which aired late Tuesday.
“The truth is that we’re always concerned about Iran engaging in destabilizing activity around the globe but overall my sense is that what Mr. Chavez has done over the last several years has not had a serious national security impact on us,” Obama said.
Under fire from the West for its disputed nuclear program, Iran has sought closer political and economic relations with countries far and wide, including many in Latin America, as its standoff with the West drags on.
Chavez, a firebrand who has criticized tough sanctions on Iran, has visited Tehran more than a dozen times since taking power in 1999 and recently hosted his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
During that visit, the two leaders pledged to battle “imperialism.”
The two states also engage in military cooperation and last month Chavez caused a stir when he announced that, with Iranian help, he had made his first drone and planned to soon begin exporting the unmanned aircraft.
Romney said: “Hugo Chavez has provided safe haven to drug kingpins, encouraged regional terrorist organizations that threaten our allies like Colombia, has strengthened military ties with Iran and helped it evade sanctions, and has allowed a Hezbollah presence within his country’s borders.”
Obama said he hoped Venezuela’s October 7 election would be fair.
“My main concern when it comes to Venezuela is having the Venezuelan people have a voice in their affairs and that you end up ultimately having fair and free elections — which we don’t always see,” he said.
After 13 years in power, Chavez is facing his first serious electoral challenge as he vies for a new term that would cement his legacy both at home and as Latin America’s leading leftist in the post-Fidel Castro era.
In November, Romney and Obama will face off in the US presidential poll.