Photo: Barack Obama and Nicolas Maduro
The U.S. government is open to the idea of better relations with Venezuela, the State Department said Tuesday after Caracas proposed sending an ambassador to Washington for the first time since 2010.
Venezuela’s nomination of a prospective envoy came within hours of a State Department announcement that it was expelling three Venezuelan diplomats in response to Caracas’ decision last week to throw out a trio of U.S. consular officials.
Venezuela booted three vice consuls after President Nicolas Maduro’s leftist administration said U.S. diplomats played a role in organizing and funding anti-government demonstrations that have left 13 people dead since Feb. 12.
Washington rejects the accusation.
Relations between the United States and Venezuela have remained at the level of charge d’affaires since late 2010, when Caracas rejected the proposed U.S. ambassador and Washington retaliated by expelling the Venezuelan envoy.
“We have indicated, and have indicated for months, our openness to develop a more constructive relationship with Venezuela, but again, recent actions including expelling three of our diplomats, continue to make that difficult,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday.
Her comments at a daily press briefing followed an announcement by Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua that the Andean nation would propose Maximilian Arvelaez as ambassador to the United States.
Jaua and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry agreed during a July 2013 meeting in Guatemala to work toward the restoration of ambassadorial-level diplomatic ties.
But that project collapsed the following month after Maduro’s government took umbrage at comments made by the then-prospective U.S. representative to the United Nations, Samantha Power, during her Senate confirmation hearing.
Power told senators she would contest “the crackdown on civil society being carried out in countries like Cuba, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela.”
Ties between Caracas and Washington soured during the 1999-2013 presidency of the late Hugo Chavez, a vehement critic of U.S. foreign policy who was Maduro’s mentor and predecessor.
Even so, Venezuela remains a key U.S. oil supplier and significant trading partner.