Senior US official in Venezuela for meetings with Maduro

AP News
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Posted: Apr 08, 2015 8:19 PM
Senior US official in Venezuela for meetings with Maduro

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A senior U.S. diplomat was in Venezuela on Wednesday for talks with President Nicolas Maduro ahead of a regional summit in which tensions between Caracas and Washington threatened to overshadow a thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations.

News of the visit by State Department counselor Thomas Shannon came after Maduro announced promotions for two of the seven officials the United States sanctioned in March for alleged human rights violations and corruption.

Caracas responded at the time by ordering most U.S. diplomats posted in the Venezuela capital to leave.

Shannon flew to Venezuela on Tuesday after its leaders invited the Obama administration to send a senior official to Caracas in advance of the three-day Summit of the Americas, which begins Friday in Panama.

Shannon was expected to meet with Venezuela's opposition coalition Thursday.

There was no immediate word on the content of the talks.

Maduro made his announcement about the promotions of two officials on Tuesday evening.

One of the promoted officials is Katherine Harrington, who will oversee criminal investigations. As a prosecutor, she has charged several opposition members with attempting to overthrow the government.

The other is Manuel Perez Urdaneta, who will oversee citizen safety. He was previously national police director.

Maduro has called the sanctions an act of war and hails as national heroes those who have had their U.S. assets frozen and visas revoked.

Meanwhile, Cuban Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel said that the communist country's support for Venezuela could not be under discussion in ongoing talks with the U.S. to re-establish relations.

Also on Wednesday, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff spoke to Maduro and Vice President Joe Biden on the phone Tuesday, according to a statement released by her administration. She found that Maduro is willing to smooth relations with the U.S., and offered her help in fostering dialogue, according to the statement.

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Associated Press writers Bradley Klapper in Washington and Adriana Gomez in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.