Obama, Chavez Shake Hands at Summit of the Americas
Venezuela quoted Chavez as saying, "I'd like to be your friend," while Obama reportedly expressed thanks, though this couldn't immediately be confirmed with the Obama administration.
Friday, April 17, 2009
President Obama shook hands with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez on Friday at the opening of the Summit of the Americas being held this weekend in Trinidad and Tobago.
Photos released by the Venezuelan government show Obama clasping Chavez's hand and smiling broadly, and Venezuela quoted Chavez as saying, "I'd like to be your friend," while noting that he shook President Bush's hand eight years ago with the same hand. Obama reportedly expressed thanks.
A senior White House official said the encounter came before the summit's opening ceremonies during a meeting with the heads of state. Obama talked to many of the 25 or so leaders who were there at the time. At one point, he walked across the room and introduced himself to Chavez.
The official wouldn't directly confirm Venezuela's version of the encounter but didn't dispute it. Chavez spoke in English, the official said.
Earlier Friday, Dan Restrepo, the president's top Western Hemisphere adviser on the National Security Council, had told FOX News Obama might cross paths with Chavez.
"A chance encounter if it occurs," Restrepo said, in describing such a meeting. "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.
Chavez, the leftist Venezuelan president, has been an outspoken critic of the United States, and in particular former President George W. Bush, whom Chavez notoriously once called the "diablo," or devil.
Since Obama's election, Chavez has varied from insult to optimism in his assessment of the new U.S. president.