When asked about his reaction to the signing of a Russian deal that promises to deliver two nuclear power plants to oil-rich Venezuela, President Obama answered:

We have no incentive nor interest in increasing friction between Venezuela and the US, but we do think Venezuela needs to act responsibly.  Our attitude is that Venezuela has rights to peacefully develop nuclear power,” he [Obama] said, “adding that as a signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty it must also meet its obligations not to weaponize those systems.

For all the many rebuffs delivered by President Hugo Chávez, including the current impasse over the selection of the next U.S. ambassador to Caracas, President Obama remains determined to minimize the potential threat Venezuela poses to U.S. interests and security in the Western Hemisphere. Obama blithely dismisses experienced critics who have raised red flags regarding Chávez’s nuclear ambitions and the growing challenge of the Venezuela-Iran-Russia connection.

Technically, the President is right when he says that the U.S. will not stand against peaceful, civilian nuclear programs. But there is a major catch.

The fundamental problem with Obama’s statement and his enormous lack of judgment is the underlying assumption that Venezuela, under President Chávez, will act responsibly. In fact, Chávez has a long and notorious record of acting in exactly the opposite fashion, at home and abroad. Chávez is a secretive, ambitious leader filled with autocratic pretensions and a consuming hatred of the United States. Whether it is supporting international terrorism and the misdeeds of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), harboring Basque terrorists, meddling in the internal politics of Honduras, or standing toe-to-toe with the Castro brothers, Chávez battles unceasingly against U.S. interests. His mismanagement of Venezuela’s economy and oil wealth has left his country badly polarized, battling recession and inflation, bleeding productivity, and drifting abysmally into Marxism-Leninism.

As if to emphasize the point, the President’s ill-timed comment coincides with Chávez’s arrival in Tehran for his annual pilgrimage to the land of the Ayatollahs. Embracing his dearest friend Mahmoud Admadinejad, Chávez proclaimed: “Venezuela will remain alongside Iran under any circumstances.” Iran’s sanctions evasion will be high on their agenda during the visit, as will Iranian-Venezuelan nuclear and military cooperation and further Iranian penetration into the Americas. They will certainly seek to parse the meaning of Obama’s readiness to accept a Venezuelan nuclear program.

In this vital foreign policy issue, the White House is acting like a distracted teacher who winks at the class bully and issues a mild word of warning while fully expecting him to continue his pattern of misbehavior. Of one thing we can be certain: this is not the final word on Chávez’s budding and dangerous nuclear ambitions.