Venezuelan FM meets U.S. representative to address bilateral relationship

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Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza met with U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams over the weekend to address the two countries’ relationship.

“We have held two meetings of which I cannot give details because I have to respect the confidentiality of them, but there have been meetings where we have listened to each other,” Arreaza said in statements broadcast on Venezuelan state television.

Arreaza said that at the meetings “there have been moments of tension, there are profound differences, but at the same time there are shared concerns and hopefully we can build on this dialogue proposed by the State Department.”

Arreaza said Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is aware of every detail of the meetings that have taken place.

Recently, Washington has stepped up economic and diplomatic pressure against the Maduro government.

On Jan. 23, the Trump administration recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the nation’s “interim president,” a move that came days after Maduro was inaugurated for a second term as Venezuelan president.

In response to Washington’s support for Guaido, Maduro announced he was severing “diplomatic and political” ties with the United States, ordering all the U.S. diplomatic and consular personnel to leave Venezuela in 72 hours.

The White House said Friday that U.S. President Donald Trump would give a speech on Venezuela in Miami, Florida on Monday, a move many believe to be aimed at supporting Guaido.

On the same day, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions on five Venezuelan officials, the latest move to pressure Maduro.

Among the five designated individuals, four are high-level officials of Venezuelan intelligence and security organizations, and the other is Manuel Quevedo, the president of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA).

The United States last month imposed sanctions on PDVSA, aiming to “prevent further diverting of Venezuela’s assets by Maduro.”

On the Venezuelan issue, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday that Russia is ready to join mediation efforts to help end the political crisis.

“We have paid great attention to the mediation formula proposed by Mexico, Uruguay and Caribbean countries. It calls for a comprehensive all-inclusive dialogue without ultimatums and preconditions,” Zakharova said at a news briefing. “We believe that this initiative, as it was announced, deserves broad international support.”

Maduro won the 2018 Venezuelan presidential election by garnering more than 6 million votes, some 4 million more than his closest rival, and was inaugurated for a second term on Jan. 10.

Guaido, head of the Venezuelan National Assembly, declared himself interim president during an anti-government rally on Jan. 23, and was immediately recognized by the United States.

Maduro accused Washington of orchestrating a coup d’etat in order to install a puppet regime in Venezuela.

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