By Major Garrett
Friday, April 17, 2009
MEXICO CITY — There’s nothing “on the schedule” when it comes to a possible meeting at the Summit of the Americas between President Obama and Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, but the president’s ready tell Chavez the two nations should put aside “old arguments.”
With the summit beginning Friday, Dan Restrepo, the president’s top Western Hemisphere adviser on the National Security Council, told FOX News Obama might cross paths with Chavez.
“A chance encounter if it occurs,” Restrepo said, in describing such a meeting, before launching into what sounded like Obama’s pre-planned pitch. “Let’s put the animosities behind us. Let’s not have old arguments.
“Let’s not have tired ideological arguments. Let’s get down to figuring out how we can advance things that are in our national interest. Things that matter to the United States that should matter to Venezuela. Putting the arguments and ideologies of the past aside and working on pragmatic solutions to real problems that face our countries today,” he said.
Obama has no known “animosities” or “tired ideological arguments” with Chavez (he vowed to meet him without preconditions during the campaign). Restropo suggested the burden of improved relations could be on Chavez.
“You have in the United States a president who’s willing to work with whomever is interested working constructively with the United States and with President Obama,” Restrepo said. “That poses a very different dynamic than has perhaps has been present in the past in Summits of the Americas or in the relationship writ large. I think will be interesting to watch the dynamic as it unfolds over the course of the summit.”
Though Restrepo seemed to suggest an encounter with Chavez is on the horizon, the White House remained cagey.
Late Thursday, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs used the “there’s nothing on the schedule” dodge when asked directly if Obama would meet face-to-face with Chavez.
That recalled a similarly vague “schedule” reference from the president’s trip to Europe and Turkey. Near the end of Obama’s two-day visit to Turkey, Gibbs was asked point blank if Obama would fly directly from Istanbul to Washington, D.C., as the White House schedule indicated. “You have the schedule,” Gibbs replied curtly. Within hours, Obama landed in Baghdad for his first visit to that war zone as president.
When asked what Obama would do if Chavez tried to pull him aside for a chat, Gibbs said:
“Every time I’ve pulled the president aside for a conversation, we’ve had that conversation, so I assume he would do the same.”
So Obama and Chavez may do more than eye each other across the table Saturday at the UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) talks that are a sideline to the summit that begins Friday in the Trinidad and Tobago capital of Port of Spain.
If they do, it may be Chavez who will have to explain to Obama how he has “the same stench” as President Bush, a comment he made after Obama accused Chavez of backing the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), a leftist terrorist organization that has terrorized Columbians with kidnappings and murders for 45 years.
While visiting Iran on April 1, Chavez said this about better relations with the U.S.: “I don’t have much hope because behind him is an empire. He’s the president of an empire. I hope President Obama is the last president of the Yankee empire.”
Talk about old animosities and tired ideological arguments.