(NEW YORK) -- Sen. Marco Rubio responded to criticism from fellow Republican and potential 2016 presidential rival Sen. Rand Paul over his position on Cuba, insisting Sunday that he would oppose the “Obama-Paul foreign policy,” and referring to the Kentucky senator as “chief cheerleader” of the president’s overseas agenda.
“Rand, if he wants to become the chief cheerleader of Obama’s foreign policy, he certainly has a right to do that,” Rubio, R-Fla., told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on This Week. “I’m going to continue to oppose the Obama-Paul foreign policy on Cuba because I know it won’t lead to freedom and liberty for the Cuban people, which is my sole interest here.”
Earlier this week, Paul tweeted on Rubio’s position on engagement with Cuba that he “is acting like an isolationist who wants to retreat to our borders and perhaps build a moat. I reject this isolationism.”
President Obama announced in an historic but controversial decision that the U.S. would move to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy in Havana, the country’s capital. Rubio, who is of Cuban heritage, criticized the president’s decision this morning.
“I want closer ties with Cuba, as well, but those closer ties have to come about as a result of a policy that will also ultimately lead to freedom. And that’s my problem with what the president’s done here. It’s not that I simply want to continue to do what we’ve been doing. I’m OK with changing policy toward Cuba,” Rubio said.
“But it has to be a policy change that has a reasonable chance of achieving freedom — freedom for the Cuban people. And I just don’t think this pol… — no, let me rephrase that. I know that this policy change that the president has now undertaken will not lead to freedom,” he added.
Rubio, questioned about Pope Francis’ role in the U.S. talks on engagement with Cuba, said it was important for the pontiff to encourage democracy as well.
“The pope is a spiritual leader and he always, naturally, is going to want to bring people closer together. And I respect that as a spiritual leader,” Rubio said. “But I think it’s also important to say that people deserve the right to be free. Our certain — our nation was founded on that principle.”
Asked about the race for the White House in 2016, Rubio said he anticipated supporting whomever the Republican party nominates, while seeming to indicate that Paul, whom he had just discussed, did not fit the bill.
“I’m pretty confident that the Republican nominee for president will be someone who has a pretty forceful role — view of America’s role in the world as a defender of democracy and of freedom and also understands that it’s important for America to be engaged on the global stage,” he said.
When asked about former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s potential entrance into the 2016 race, Rubio said he had “tremendous respect” for Bush and said he would be a very “credible” and “strong” candidate if he decides to run.
Rubio told Stephanopoulos he has not decided whether to make his own bid for the presidency.
“I think ultimately, that first I have to make the decision that that’s what I want to do, that that’s the best place for me to serve the country at this time. And then I think that’s why you have a primary. And that’s the greatness about our system of government in comparison to what they have in Cuba, for example, where they don’t get to choose their leaders,” he said.
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