Q During the campaign you were criticized by some within your own party for perhaps not being able to be tough on foreign policy matters. Now you’ve had this friendly interaction with Mr. Chavez. Are you concerned at all about how this might be perceived back in the U.S. as perhaps being soft? Already one senator is calling this friendly interaction irresponsible. And as a quick follow-up, if I may, when you got the book from Mr. Chavez, what did you really think? (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: I think it was a nice gesture to give me a book; I’m a reader. And you’re right, we had this debate throughout the campaign, and the whole notion was, is that somehow if we showed courtesy or opened up dialogue with governments that had previously been hostile to us, that that somehow would be a sign of weakness. The American people didn’t buy it. And there’s a good reason the American people didn’t buy it — because it doesn’t make sense.
You take a country like Venezuela — I have great differences with Hugo Chavez on matters of economic policy and matters of foreign policy. His rhetoric directed at the United States has been inflammatory. There have been instances in which we’ve seen Venezuela interfere with some of the — some of the countries that surround Venezuela in ways that I think are a source of concern.
On the other hand, Venezuela is a country whose defense budget is probably 1/600th of the United States’. They own Citgo. It’s unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States. I don’t think anybody can find any evidence that that would do so. Even within this imaginative crowd, I think you would be hard-pressed to paint a scenario in which U.S. interests would be damaged as a consequence of us having a more constructive relationship with Venezuela.
So if the question, Dan, is, how does this play politically, I don’t know. One of the benefits of my campaign and how I’ve been trying to operate as President is I don’t worry about the politics — I try to figure out what’s right in terms of American interests, and on this one I think I’m right.
Julia — who, by the way, I saw getting jostled a lot during the photo sprays. Cameramen, I just want you to know. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you, Mr. President. I’d like to ask a question about an issue back home about the economy and the stress tests and whether or not you expect that along with the stress tests, with the results next month, that one or more executives will be asked to step down as — as it was with the auto restructuring plan.