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Rubio Discusses Crisis In Venezuela, Foreign Policy With CNN’s Wolf Blitzer
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
CNN’s “Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer”
February 25, 2014
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: “Let’s talk about Venezuela right now. You know that the President of Venezuela, he had some sharp words for you. He called you, and I’m translating from the Spanish, ‘the craziest of the crazies,’ because of your views on what’s going on in Venezuela right now. What should the U.S. be doing in Venezuela?”
Senator Marco Rubio: “First of all, let me just say about this individual, Mr. Maduro, he’s someone who actually said Hugo Chávez, after his death, appeared to him in the form of a bird. So I’m not sure who the crazy is here. All I’ve done is point to the human rights abuses that are occurring on the streets of Venezuela. Every single day, there are now documented instances, numerous, of government troops and some of these civilian militias that they have armed and they have trained who have shot and killed student protesters. This all began as a student protest two weeks ago because the government wasn’t doing enough to go after the rapists and sexual assault cases on campus. And, of course, the government cracked down, but didn’t crack down on the rapists, it cracked down on the students. And this of course has spiraled into this broader discontent.”
Blitzer: “What should the U.S. do, if anything? We have limited influence, I assume.”
Rubio: “Well, first of all, we should be involved and care, right now. You know I heard yesterday the State Department said they are concerned. They shouldn’t be concerned about what is happening in Venezuela, they should be outraged about by it. And it should be getting the same level of attention as what’s happening in Egypt, or what’s happening in Ukraine, or other parts of the world because this is actually closer to us. The second is and I think we now have documented incidents of human rights abuses, we should put together a package of sanctions against these individuals who are committing these atrocities and these crimes, and beyond that, I would say that we should study whether, in fact, we are at a stage where we should explore some specific sanctions against this Venezuelan government. Maybe a moratorium on private investment, or what have you. But there has to be consequences for what’s going on. We need to lead through our example.”
Blitzer: “Is there a connection between what’s happening in Venezuela and Cuba, which is another subject close to your heart?”
Rubio: “Well the connection is the Cubans get free and cheap oil from the Venezuelans. So their interest is keeping this regime in place because they’re their benefactors. The Cubans have been deeply involved in the government apparatus in Venezuela for many, many years, going back to Hugo Chávez. One of the chants in the streets now among the protesters is, ‘We don’t want to become Cuba.’ And Cuba is clearly involved in assisting the Venezuelan government with both personnel and training and equipment to carry out these repressive activities, including, for example, the ability to shut down Twitter and social media. I think it’s a broader part of an agenda that Cuba has in furthering terrorism around the world. As we saw very recently, a UN report found that Cuba helped North Korea evade UN sanctions. So, this is par for the course with the Cuban regime.”
Blitzer: “Because you tweeted on February 23rd, ‘Havana’s puppet, Nicolás Maduro, can attack me, but world sees what he is doing to people of Venezuela.’”
Rubio: “That’s what he is. He is a puppet of Raul Castro, as Chávez was of Fidel. He’s largely controlled by what the Cuban government tells him they want him to do. And I think within Venezuela, within the Venezuelan government, and certainly within the Venezuelan population, it’s created a tremendous amount of resentment.”
Blitzer: “So you see targeted sanctions as one option right now?”
Blitzer: “Is the indication that the administration is ready to do that?”
Rubio: “Well there’s no indication the administration’s even thinking too much about Venezuela right now, and that’s unfortunate. I think we hope to be able to change that. But I think this is part of a broader issue with foreign policy in this administration. They largely view these things as challenges to be managed, rather than causes to be advanced. And so the interest of the administration seems to be stability at all costs, as opposed to furthering our national interest on some of these issues.”
Blitzer: “So be specific, if you had your way, if you were Secretary of State or President of the United States, what would you do right now?”
Rubio: “Well the first thing we have to understand is that many of these Venezuelans officials in their government have assets in the United States. The Venezuelan government has operations in the United States, non-diplomatic operations, those should be targeted to be closed down and those individuals need to be sanctioned.”
Blitzer: “Ukraine, Russia. You’re on the Foreign Relations Committee, are you satisfied with the way the administration is handling the unrest in Ukraine right now?”
Rubio: “Well, I think it remains to be seen. Certainly, I think the important thing is what happens moving forward. I think the Ukrainian people took this issue upon themselves and removed someone from office using their legislative process to do so. Since then, we’ve seen evidence of horrible corruption that existed and that’s why, in addition to crimes they were committed against people in the streets, these former leaders of Ukraine are going to have to face the consequences for that. As far as moving forward, I think now is where the administration needs to step up.”
Blitzer: “What do you want them to do?”
Rubio: “Well, first of all, we need to help galvanize the European Union and the rest of the free world to provide assistance so that this sticks. So that what’s in place now is a peaceful transition to a stable government that does not continue to feel cross-pressure between joining the Russian effort or becoming part of Europe and the free world, but, in fact, are stable — whether it’s IMF funds, whether it’s a US package in combination with the European Union — to ensure that over the next few years there’s a period of transition that is stable and sustainable.”
Blitzer: “You trust Putin?”
Rubio: “No, of course not. I think Vladimir Putin, his goals are to reestablish Russia as a world power, kind of recapture some of what he feels they lost after the fall of the Soviet Union. And so this customs league that they’re trying to set up is a part of that. His efforts to thwart us, whether it’s in Syria, or Iran, or right even in Venezuela. You mentioned Venezuela. They’re flying Russian-made jets, are what’s flying over the skies of Venezuela. They’re trying to intimidate the population. He views anything that’s bad for the United States as good for him in this geopolitical context.”
Blitzer: “So was Mitt Romney right when he said, ‘Russia was America’s number one geopolitical foe?’”
Rubio: “Well I think he’s right in the sense that Russia is an emerging geopolitical foe in that that they are trying to thwart our national interest at every step along the way. That’s a change in direction from what you found Russia twenty years ago. That’s grown as Putin came into power and then reemerged into power again after a brief period.”
Blitzer: “But the administration makes the point that the U.S. needs to work with Russia, not only in areas like say Ukraine, but Syria, Iran, elsewhere. Russia has some significant influence.”
Rubio: “Well we need to work with Russia, if Russia’s willing to work in a cooperative fashion. But I think we have to go in clear-eyed about their intentions. We have now tried to work with Russia through this reset that the administration put in place, and what has it led to? They have thwarted efforts to sanction Syria, in fact they’re Assad’s most important supporter, perhaps other than Iran.”
Blitzer: “They did join the UN Security Council over the weekend in supporting some humanitarian -”
Rubio: “Well, what they supported was a move at the UN saying that this humanitarian aid needs to be allowed to be delivered to the people. What they haven’t supported are sanctions against the criminality of Assad. On the contrary, they are equipping him, they are supporting him, they are propping him up, they are capacitating him to carry out these crimes against his own people.”
Blitzer: “You don’t want to send troops over there? To Syria?”
Rubio: “I heard Secretary Rice make that argument over the weekend, ‘That people that want to put boots on the ground.’ Who is that exactly? Who has called for American troops in Syria? I haven’t heard a single policymaker say that. That’s an absurd – I don’t know how she can say that on the air and not be challenged. I’ve never heard anyone argue for American troops on the ground in Syria. What I have heard, especially early on in this conflict, which is what I advocated, is, ‘Let’s equip the Syrian rebels, the non-Islamists. Because if we don’t you’re going to leave a vacuum and it’s going to be filled by Jihadists.’ That’s exactly what’s happened.”
Blitzer: “What about this interim deal with Iran right now? In six months they’re going to supposedly freeze their nuclear program, the U.S. eases up together with the allies some sanctions, hoping that afterwards there could be a real deal to eliminate Iran’s nuclear weapons capability. Are you with the President on that?”
Rubio: “I’m not, I’ll tell you why. I will not be the one to wake up tomorrow morning to the news that the Supreme Leader in Iran has decided to forever abandon their nuclear ambitions. That’s not going to happen. For them, above everything else, other than a matter of geopolitical pride and influence, a nuclear weapons capability, they view as the ultimate insurance policy against ever being overthrown. They believe it provides them immunity.”
Blitzer: “The President says if you pass this legislation in the Senate, he’ll veto it in the interim period.”
Rubio: “Well I’m sure he will and I hope that we will have enough votes to be able to overturn that. Because what we’re seeing already, is even with this interim deal in place, already exports of Iranian gas and trade and commerce with the Iranians, has skyrocketed. The horse is out of the barn with this now. You’re not going to be able to put this back together, if in fact the talks fail.”
Blitzer: “Because he says, and the Secretary of State says, ‘If they cheat, if they violate this, the U.S. can turn on those sanctions within a day.’”
Rubio: “Violate what? What kind of deal are they looking to make? Because they will not assure us that it will not involve any enrichment capability, and if Iran retains any ability to enrich or to reprocess. They are a nuclear power whenever they want to be, all they have to do is flip the switch. And that’s their strategy. This is what North Korea did. This is a time-tested model. What you do is you use sanctions and you use negotiations to buy time, but you retain the enrichment capability. And then when you decide, a few years from now, when the world is distracted and something else is going on, to move forward and develop a weapon, you can and will. That’s Iran’s plan.”