CARACAS Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez laughed off a Benetton advertisement that showed him kissing his ideological adversary and U.S. counterpart Barack Obama, guffawing on Tuesday that it was a "good joke."
The photo was part of a controversial campaign by the Italian fashion company that showed political and religious leaders kissing each other on the mouth.
The Vatican said it would take legal action over one image of Pope Benedict kissing a Muslim imam. But Chavez took it in better humour.
"I hadn't seen this! How does Obama look there? With his eyes closed! Like he's inspired!" Chavez joked when asked by reporters about the picture of him and the U.S. leader.
"But it's just a peck, really, only a peck. They mess with me all the time, but I don't do anything ... my personal and spiritual tendency is to laugh at myself. It was a good joke."
Benetton said the purpose of its campaign had been "exclusively to fight the culture of hate in every form" but that it nonetheless decided to withdraw the image of the pope.
The clothing company has launched controversial advertisements in the past, including one that showed grieving parents at the bedside of a man dying of AIDS.
Chavez joked that he expected something from the company for being a good sport about the latest campaign.
"They're not even going to send me a tie? I hope for a tie for Christmas," the socialist leader said. "It's a publicity strategy ... I commend their creativity."
Chavez had met and given a book to Obama soon after he entered the White House, but hopes of a rapprochement soon evaporated and ties between Washington and Caracas remain as fraught as possible.
(Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Doina Chiacu)