POLITICS
12/21/2014 11:50 am ET Updated Dec 21, 2014

Rubio Pushes Back On Obama, Rand Paul On Cuba Policy

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) blasted the Obama administration's recent decision to open up new ties to Cuba, arguing that the policy change "will not lead to freedom" for the Cuban people.

"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," said Rubio during an appearance on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday. "I'm OK with changing policy toward Cuba. But it has to be a policy change that has a reasonable chance of achieving freedom -- freedom for the Cuban people."

Host George Stephanopoulos pointed out that the U.S. has relations with other countries that "don't meet our democratic standards," including China, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

"That's exactly my point. We have those policies of normalization toward Vietnam, for example, toward China," said Rubio. "They're not any more politically free today than they were when that normalization happened. They may have a bigger economy, but their political freedoms -- certainly I would not hold up China or Saudi Arabia or Vietnam as examples of political freedom, proving my point that engagement by itself does not guarantee or even lead to political freedoms."

Rubio, who is himself Cuban-American, also discussed recent criticism aimed his way from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) over Cuba policy.

"Senator Marco Rubio is acting like an isolationist who wants to retreat to our borders and perhaps build a moat," Paul wrote on Twitter Friday. "I reject this isolationism. This seems to be a preview of the debate of 2016."

Rubio offered a rebuttal on Sunday.

"Rand, if he wants to become the chief cheerleader of Obama's foreign policy, he certainly has a right to do that," said Rubio. "I'm going to continue to oppose the Obama -- 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."

Rubio was coy on the subject of whether he would be running for president in 2016. His fellow Florida Republican, former Gov. Jeb Bush, announced this week that he was actively exploring a primary run. Bush has served as a mentor to Rubio in the past, but Rubio didn't indicate that his history with Bush would keep him from exploring a presidential bid of his own.

"If I make the decision that the best place for me to do that is the presidency, then I'm going to run for president," said Rubio. "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."

"That's the greatness about our system of government," he continued, "in comparison to what they have in Cuba, for example, where they don't get to choose their leaders."

Update, 1 p.m. -- In a statement, Paul's office claimed that it is in fact Rubio, not Paul, whose approach to foreign policy resembles the president's.

"With all due respect, Senator Marco Rubio was captain of the GOP cheerleading team for Obama's arming of Syrian rebels, bombing Libya resulting in a jihadist wonderland, and illegally giving foreign aid to Egypt's military government," said Doug Stafford, a senior adviser to Paul, in an email to The Huffington Post. "The Rubio-Obama foreign policy has made the Middle East and North Africa less safe."

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