CARACAS Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a socialist and fierce U.S. critic, warned on Tuesday that relations with Washington could worsen if Republican candidate John McCain wins this year's presidential election.
Chavez said he hopes the United States and Venezuela can work better together when his ideological foe, U.S. President George W. Bush, leaves the White House next year, but he said McCain seemed "warlike."
"Sometimes one says, 'worse than Bush is impossible,' but we don't know," Chavez told foreign correspondents. "McCain also seems to be a man of war."
Chavez -- who has called Bush "the devil", "a donkey" and 'Mr Danger" -- accuses the United States of having imperial designs in Latin America and says the White House has plotted his overthrow.
McCain calls Chavez a dictator who wants to emulate retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Although Venezuela remains a key supplier of oil to the United States, relations have steadily deteriorated since Bush took office in 2001.
Chavez is an outspoken critic of the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and has accused Washington of stirring unrest in Tibet to destabilize China.
He said on Tuesday that he had better communication with the administration of former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
"Independently of who wins the elections, we are hopeful and it is within our plans to enter an era of better relations with the U.S. government," he said. "At the least one would hope for the level of relations we had with ex-President Clinton."
He did not mention Democratic hopefuls Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. Both are cautious about Chavez, although Obama has said he could meet him.
Chavez, who holds office until 2013, aims to unite Latin America through socialism and promotes trade plans opposed to U.S. dominance in the region.
(Reporting by Saul Hudson; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel)
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