Pat Robertson, the conservative Christian broadcaster, has attracted attention over the years for lambasting feminists, "activist" judges, the United Nations and Disneyland.
Now Mr. Robertson has set off an international firestorm by saying on his television show that the United States should kill the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chßvez, a leftist whose country has the largest oil reserves outside the Middle East.
"If he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it," Mr. Robertson said Monday on his show, "The 700 Club." "It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don't think any oil shipments will stop."
Yesterday Mr. Robertson's statements were denounced by both the State Department and by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. In Caracas, he was criticized by the vice president of Venezuela, and in Havana by President Fidel Castro.
Vice President Jos´ Vicente Rangel of Venezuela said: "This is a huge hypocrisy to maintain an antiterrorist line and at the same time have such terrorist statements as these made by Christian preacher Pat Robertson coming from the same country."
Mr. Rumsfeld dismissed Mr. Robertson's remark on assassination, saying: "Certainly it's against the law. Our department doesn't do that type of thing." He added, "Private citizens say all kinds of things all the time."
Sean McCormack, a State Department spokesman, called Mr. Robertson's comments "inappropriate."
Mr. Robertson, who is 75, ran for president as a Republican in 1988. He has often used his show and the political advocacy group he founded, the Christian Coalition, to support President Bush.
Bernardo Álvarez, the Venezuelan ambassador in Washington, said: "Mr. Robertson has been one of the president's staunchest allies. His statement demands the strongest condemnation by the White House."
Some of Mr. Robertson's allies distanced themselves from his comments. The Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council, released a statement saying Mr. Robertson should "immediately apologize, retract his statement and clarify what the Bible and Christianity teaches about the permissibility of taking human life outside of law."
The Rev. Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals said he and "most evangelical leaders" would disassociate themselves from such "unfortunate and particularly irresponsible" comments.
"It complicates circumstances for foreign missionaries and Christian aid workers overseas who are already perceived, wrongly, especially by leftists and other leaders, as collaborators with U.S. intelligence agencies," Mr. Cizik added.
But other conservative Christian organizations remained silent, with leaders at the Traditional Values Coalition, the Family Research Council and the Christian Coalition saying they were too busy to comment.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Robertson said yesterday that he was not giving interviews and had no further comment.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson called for the Federal Communications Commission to investigate, just as it did when Janet Jackson's breast was exposed in the Super Bowl broadcast in 2004. "This is even more threatening to hemispheric stability than the flash of a breast on television during a ballgame," Mr. Jackson said.
One liberal watchdog group, Media Matters for America, sent a letter urging the ABC Family network to stop carrying Mr. Robertson's show. Another group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, asked Mr. Bush to repudiate Mr. Robertson personally.
Mr. Robertson's show is broadcast by ABC Family, which agreed to televise it as part of the deal it made in 2001 to buy Fox Family Worldwide, which previously broadcast it.
In a statement yesterday, ABC Family said the company was "contractually obligated to air 'The 700 Club' and has no editorial control over views expressed by the hosts or guests." It added, "ABC Family strongly rejects the views expressed by Pat Robertson."
Mr. Chßvez, who won office in 1998, has become the Bush administration's most vocal antagonist in Latin America, accusing Mr. Bush of terrorism for the Iraq war and of trying to impoverish developing countries by pushing market reforms. Mr. Chßvez has often accused the United States of trying to assassinate him. The White House welcomed a coup against him in April 2002, but Mr. Chßvez quickly regained power.
Yesterday, Mr. Chßvez was visiting Mr. Castro in Havana, and shrugged off Mr. Robertson's comments. But Mr. Castro said of the Robertson remark, "I think only God can punish crimes of such magnitude."
Mr. Robertson's comments immediately followed a segment about Venezuela. Speaking live in the studio, Mr. Robertson said Mr. Chßvez had "destroyed the Venezuelan economy" and was turning the country into "a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism."
"We have the ability to take him out," he said, "and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion dollar war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator."
Mr. Robertson's television show has an audience of about one million people, according to his Web site.
Mr. Robertson has a history of getting attention for inflammatory remarks. In May he said the threat to the United States from activist judges was "probably more serious than a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings." In 1998, he warned that hurricanes and other natural disasters would sweep down on Orlando, Fla., because gay men and lesbians were flocking to Disney World on special "gay days." And he has often denounced the United Nations as a first step toward a dangerous "one world government."