CARACAS - President Hugo Chavez has said that Venezuela was not a threat to the US, after Mitt Romney blasted President Obama for downplaying the risk posed by the longtime US foe. "I think Obama, if you remove the title, is a good guy - if you isolate yourself from the context, as a person," Chavez, a fierce critic of Washington, said in an interview on local TV. "In truth, we are not a threat to the US government," added the Venezuelan leader, a leftist firebrand who has cultivated close ties with Washington's foes Cuba and Iran. The Venezuelan leader also recounted a conversation he had with Obama when the two met in Trinidad and Tobago for the 2009 Summit of the Americas.

"He said, 'We have differences but I'm never going to meddle in the internal affairs of Venezuela.' I said, 'that's enough for me'," Chavez related, adding that he had told Obama he hoped to see an improvement in bilateral ties.

In an interview that aired Tuesday, Obama said while Chavez's "destabilizing activity" was of concern, "my sense is that what Mr. Chavez has done over the last several years has not had a serious national security impact on us."

Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney immediately pounced on the remarks, which were given to Miami's Spanish-language America TeVe broadcaster, branding Obama's stance "stunning and shocking."

"It is disturbing to see him downplaying the threat posed to US interests by a regime that openly wishes us ill," Romney said in a strongly-worded statement, attacking his rival ahead of the November vote.

"Hugo Chavez has provided safe haven to drug kingpins, encouraged regional terrorist organizations that threaten our allies like Colombia, has strengthened military ties with Iran and helped it evade sanctions, and has allowed a Hezbollah presence within his country's borders."

Chavez is also up for re-election, in October.