In video footage from Venezuelan state television that emerged Monday, the interaction between President Obama and President Hugo Chavez this past weekend at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago is shown to have not been all smiles and back-pats, as has been widely reported.
In the video, there seems to be a level of subtly awkward discord between the always-cool Obama and a rather More.. peripatetic Chavez. A description from the Los Angeles Times notes:
No smiles in this exchange. In fact, Obama at first appears eager to walk away and is held back by Chavez. The American president then dominates the ongoing discussion and is seen gesturing with his right hand and pointing his finger several times at Chavez's chest.
No word yet from the White House on the contents of this little-known exchange.
President Obama said Sunday he's not concerned with the politics of shaking hands with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and is more interested in expanding a policy he described during his presidential campaign of extending an open hand to nations hostile to the U.S.
Obama received a book from the Venezuelan president on Saturday after greeting him on Friday evening during the weekend Summit of the Americas. Chavez told the Obama administration that he would like to send an ambassador to the U.S. in exchange for an ambassador in Venezuela. The U.S. suspended diplomatic ties last September.
U.S. officials responded that they need to see more from Chavez before moving forward but were pleased by the sentiment.
Obama did not make note that the book offered by Chavez, "Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent," by Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano, blames foreign interests like the United States for exploiting Latin America for centuries.
"It was a nice gesture to give me a book. I am a reader," Obama said during a solo press conference at the end of a the summit held in the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago
"We had this debate throughout the campaign. I mean the whole notion was somehow that if we showed courtesy or opened up dialogue with governments that had previously been hostile to us that would show weakness. And the American people didn't buy it and there's a reason they didn't buy it -- because it didn't make sense," Obama said.
Obama credited Chavez, who has been slowly instituting constitutional changes that will allow him to become president for life in his country, with successfully stealing the limelight during the weekend summit. But he said meeting with the Venezuelan leader, who has made "inflammatory" anti-American comments, isn't going to break the United States.
"There have been instances where we've seen Venezuela interfere with some of the countries that surround Venezuela in ways that cause concern. On the other hand, Venezuela is a country whose defense budget is one-six hundredth of the United States. They own Citgo, the oil company. It's unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or that having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we endanger the strategic interests of the United States," Obama said.
Back in Washington, D.C., former CIA Director Michael Hayden was cautious about any changes in U.S. relations with Venezuela.
"Here's a case where I would watch for behavior, not for rhetoric, and the behavior of President Chavez over the past years has been downright horrendous -- both internationally and with regard to what he's done internally inside Venezuela," Hayden told "FOX News Sunday."
Indeed, independent Venezuelan reporters who normally cover Chavez said the president has a tendency to act "statesmanlike" when the world is watching, but has traditionally reverted back to his normal defiant, socialist and overtly-bombastic rhetoric when describing the U.S. after his return home. Chavez's mercurial rhetoric also has been described as a wildly swinging pendulum, that ranges from one extreme to the other often within the same speech.
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