Tuesday, June 11, 2013

 

Kerry Meets With Official of Venezuela to Set Talks

CARACAS, Venezuela — After months of tensions between the United States and Venezuela, Secretary of State John Kerry met on Wednesday with the Venezuelan foreign minister, Elías Jaua, in Antigua, Guatemala, and announced the start of talks aimed at improving relations between the two countries.


The overture came after another hopeful sign, Venezuela’s release from jail and subsequent expulsion of an American documentary filmmaker who had been accused of seeking to undermine the government.

The filmmaker, Tim Tracy, was put on a commercial flight to Miami on Wednesday morning.

“We agreed today, 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,” Mr. Kerry said after meeting with Mr. Jaua on the sideline of a session of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States. American officials said Venezuela had requested the meeting.

Appearing separately, Mr. Jaua said, “We have faith and confidence that this meeting marks the start of a relationship of respect.”

The two men were photographed shaking hands in what a senior Obama administration official said appeared to be the first public meeting of top officials from the two countries since President Obama and the Venezuelan president at the time, Hugo Chávez, shook hands in a brief encounter at a regional summit meeting in 2009.

Mr. Kerry said the countries had agreed “that there will be an ongoing and continuing dialogue at a high level” between the State Department and the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry.

He expressed hope that the countries could “quickly move to the appointment of ambassadors.” Mr. Chávez expelled the American ambassador in 2008, accusing the United States of backing a group of military officers plotting a coup against him. In response, the United States expelled the Venezuelan ambassador.

The two countries quietly began similar talks aimed at improving relations late last year, but they ground to a halt a few weeks after Mr. Chávez, a socialist who often made the United States out to be a villain, flew to Cuba in early December for cancer surgery. Mr. Chávez died in March. In April, his handpicked successor, Nicolás Maduro, narrowly won an election to replace him.

In the previous round of talks, the two countries agreed to focus on topics of potential cooperation, including the fight against drug trafficking, and to have the regional head of the Drug Enforcement Administration meet Venezuelan counterparts in Caracas — a meeting that never occurred.

Mr. Maduro, who is struggling with economic problems and faces great pressures from within Mr. Chávez’s movement and from a re-energized opposition, has repeatedly used the United States as a political punching bag and accused it of ties to purported plots to undermine or overthrow his government.

Last month, Mr. Maduro called Mr. Obama “the big boss of the devils” and said Mr. Obama planned to provoke violence in Venezuela to have an excuse to intervene.

On the day Mr. Chávez died, Mr. Maduro expelled two military attaches at the American Embassy, saying they were trying to destabilize the country. He has speculated that the United States may have found a way to cause Mr. Chávez’s cancer.

In April, the Maduro government arrested Mr. Tracy, the filmmaker, accusing him of being a spy seeking to set off a civil war in Venezuela by funneling money to student protesters. It never made public any evidence to support the charges against Mr. Tracy, who said he had come to Venezuela to make a documentary about the country’s political divide.

In a television interview last month, Mr. Obama called the accusations “ridiculous.” Mr. Kerry on Wednesday called Mr. Tracy’s release “a very positive development.”

The Venezuelan interior minister, Miguel Rodríguez Torres, said Mr. Maduro had ordered Mr. Tracy’s expulsion. source


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