CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Hugo Chavez's government formally rejected Washington's nominee for ambassador Monday, and the U.S. State Department said the decision will have consequences on relations with Venezuela.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Venezuela's government presented an American diplomat in Caracas with a note withdrawing its consent for Larry Palmer to be appointed ambassador. Crowley reiterated that the U.S. stands behind its nomination of Palmer, who is awaiting Senate confirmation.
Tensions flared over the issue as Chavez warned on Saturday that if Palmer arrives in Venezuela he would be detained and put on the next flight home. Palmer angered Chavez by suggesting during the Senate confirmation process that morale is low in Venezuela's military and that he is concerned Colombian rebels are finding refuge in Venezuela.
Crowley said Venezuela's rejection of Palmer "has consequences in terms of our relationship with Venezuela."
He said U.S. officials have been discussing the issue with the Venezuelans for months and have warned that if Chavez's government withdraws approval for Palmer's appointment "it would have an impact on our ongoing relations."
Chavez, for his part, has publicly been saying for months that Palmer would not be welcome under any circumstances.
"They've made this decision, and obviously we will evaluate what to do," Crowley told reporters. "We will evaluate the consequences to our relationship."
He would not comment on possible U.S. responses.
A Venezuelan foreign ministry official, Temir Porras, presented a formal diplomatic protest on the matter to the U.S. Embassy's charge d'affaires, Darnall Steuart, during a meeting Monday in Caracas. Steuart said the U.S. regrets Venezuela's stance, and it "will bear the responsibility for that action."
Chavez, whose economy relies heavily on U.S. oil sales, initially expressed optimism that under President Barack Obama, years of hostility between Venezuela and the U.S. could ease. But tensions have persisted, with Chavez accusing Washington of trying to undermine him, and U.S. officials increasingly voicing concerns about threats to democracy in Venezuela.
The United States has been strongly critical of decree powers that were granted to Chavez on Friday by his congressional allies, shortly before a new National Assembly takes over next month with a larger opposition contingent capable of hindering approval of some types of laws.
Crowley said last week that Chavez "seems to be finding new and creative ways to justify autocratic powers."
The U.S. Embassy, meanwhile, has been without an ambassador since Patrick Duddy finished his assignment and left in July.
Chavez has denied U.S. accusations that some members of his inner circle have aided Colombian rebels. He has insisted that such claims are part of a U.S. smear campaign intended to discredit his government.
Chavez said Palmer had "disqualified himself" with his remarks. Addressing his foreign minister on Saturday, Chavez that if Palmer were to arrive at Caracas' airport, he should be stopped.
"Give Mr. Palmer a coffee from me, and then 'bye-bye.' He cannot, he cannot enter this country," he said.
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.
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