Venezuela sees normal U.S. relations this year

June 11, 2013 at 2:30 AM
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CARACAS, Venezuela, June 11 (UPI) -- Venezuela hopes to normalize relations with the United States and exchange ambassadors this year, the country's foreign minister said.

"We have agreed [with the United States] on a meeting point, and also that our relationship will be one of mutual respect so that we can appoint ambassadors later this year," Elias Jaua told Spanish newspaper El Pais.

The State Department had no immediate comment on Jaua's timetable.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced talks aimed at improving the two countries' relations Wednesday after meeting with Jaua for about 40 minutes on the sidelines of an Organization of American States meeting in Antigua, Guatemala.

"We agreed ... both of us, Venezuela and the United States, that we would like to see our countries find a new way forward, establish a more constructive and positive relationship," Kerry said after the Jaua meeting.

U.S.-Venezuelan relations have been strained for years.

Kerry said he hoped the countries would "quickly move to the appointment of ambassadors."

Calixto Ortega, Venezuela's newly named charge d'affaires in Washington, who attended the Guatemala meeting, told The Wall Street Journal the two countries agreed on a plan to normalize ties and resume cooperation on counter-terrorism, anti-narcotics operations and energy.

Despite strained relations, the United States imported more than $50 billion in oil from Venezuela last year.

The Kerry-Jaua meeting took place at Venezuela's request, U.S. officials said.

Jaua told El Pais President Hugo Chavez had pushed for the normalization of relations before he died of cancer March 5 and Chavez' successor, Nicolas Maduro, was carrying out Chavez' wishes.

Jaua stressed the relations would be "normalized," not "restored."

"We haven't broken relations," he told the newspaper.

Washington has not officially recognized Maduro's April 14 victory in a special presidential election.

When asked by El Pais if Caracas needed U.S. recognition to normalize relations, Jaua said, "No, it's not necessary," adding recognition or not, Venezuela has "a legitimate and constitutional government."

Jaua's Twitter account, however, posted a message a day after the Kerry meeting saying, "Finally Obama recognizes the legitimate government of Maduro," with a link to a Venezuelan news website story whose headline said the same words but ended with a question mark.

Even after normalized relations, Washington intends to keep on pressing Caracas to ensure democracy and individual freedoms, a U.S. official told the Journal.

Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who ran against Maduro, has refused to accept the election result, citing alleged fraud and voter intimidation by the ruling Socialist party.

Chavez expelled U.S. Ambassador Patrick Duddy in 2008, accusing Washington of backing military officers plotting a coup against him. Chavez also recalled Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez.

The Kerry-Jaua meeting came hours after Venezuela released from jail and expelled a U.S. documentary filmmaker arrested more than a month earlier on charges of spying for Washington to undermine the newly elected Maduro government.

The attorney for Tim Tracy, 35, of West Hollywood, Calif., and Tracy's family denied the charges.

Ortega told the Journal Tracy was released as "a gesture from Venezuela."

"If someone wants to interpret that as an action that will have an impact on improving relations with the U.S., they are free to do so," she said.

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