He also said the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks resulted from insulting God.
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WASHINGTON -- Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson caused heartburn in Washington and consternation in Latin America on Tuesday in calling for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
"I think we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war," Robertson said during Monday evening's broadcast of "The 700 Club," his Christian news-talk television show. "We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability."
It was hardly the first time that Robertson captured international attention with an eyebrow-raising comment, a prominence that also reflects his clout, now ebbing, among conservative Republicans.
Robertson's comments added new tension to the strained relationship between the United States and Venezuela, the nation's fourth-biggest supplier of foreign oil. The Bush administration scrambled to distance itself from the talk of assassination. The Venezuelan government expressed outrage.
"Our department doesn't do that kind of thing. It's against the law," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called Robertson's comments "inappropriate" and out of step with U.S. policy.
While administration officials might not agree with Robertson's proposed solution, they share at least some of his concerns about the Venezuelan leader. Chavez has become increasingly vocal in his criticism of the United States. He spent the weekend with his ally Fidel Castro in Cuba.
The two leaders teamed up for a six-hour television show that highlighted their mutual admiration. Chavez's anti-American views are particularly troubling to the White House because Venezuela supplies more than 10 percent of U.S. oil imports.
Robertson said Chavez should be killed to keep him from turning Venezuela into a "launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism."
"We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some cover operative do the job and get it over with."
Other extreme comments
The evangelist has a history of similarly startling statements.
He suggested that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks occurred because "we have insulted God at the highest level of our government."
He once warned Orlando, Fla., that God might send hurricanes its way if Disney World continued to recognize gay-pride events.
He has said feminism encourages women to kill their children and become lesbians.
He once called for blowing up the State Department with a nuclear device. He said he considered liberal judges a more serious threat to America than "a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings."
But Robertson, 75, can't be dismissed as just another crackpot.
Although his influence has waned since his days as the acknowledged leader of Christian conservatives in the late 1980s, he's still influential.
After a religious awakening in a ritzy Philadelphia restaurant in the mid-1950s, he built a Christian empire that includes the Christian Broadcasting Network, Regent University, an international charity called Operation Blessing and the American Center for Law & amp; Justice, an advocacy group that's at the center of the push for a more conservative judiciary.
"The 700 Club," Robertson's direct link to his admirers, claims 1 million viewers a day.