WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday urged Venezuela's government and opposition to find a "peaceful resolution" to their disputes before a Dec. 6 parliamentary election and said the United States wanted to improve ties.
In a message to Venezuela to mark the country's independence on July 5, Kerry referred to recent talks between Washington and Caracas, saying he hoped the two countries could find ways to cooperate.
"As you look toward legislative elections, political dialogue will be important in ensuring peaceful resolution of disputes and the integrity of your democratic process," Kerry said in his message.
The two arch-rivals have embarked on their most extensive dialogue in years in an attempt to improve ties and agreed to work on a two-track effort in areas of disagreement, such as Venezuela's clamp-down on political opposition, and those of shared interest, including the Colombia peace process and Haiti.
Washington sent Tom Shannon, the State Department's legal counselor to Caracas for talks with President Nicolas Maduro in April. Shannon later met Venezuela's powerful parliamentary chief Diosdado Cabello in Haiti on June 14, where both sides agreed to cooperate on Haiti's election and in the areas of health, energy and agriculture.
While Cabello did not commit to a date for Venezuela's election, a week later the country's election authority announced a vote on Dec. 6, a move that ended a hunger strike by jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.
"I look forward to further cooperation between our people and governments as we seek ways to improve a historically strong relationship that has endured for nearly two centuries," Kerry said, referring to cooperation on Haiti and Colombia.
He said both countries also shared a love for baseball, music and fashion, which had produced greats such as designer Carolina Herrera and pianist Gabriela Montero.
In a another sign of more communication between the countries, Republican U.S. Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was in Venezuela this week in a rare visit by a U.S. lawmaker to Caracas.
In a statement on his return, Corker called Venezuela "a country with great unrealized potential and abundant resources."
But he noted the country's economic problems and said it was heading for "some very difficult times" if all of its leaders cannot embrace free markets, disciplined monetary policy, respect for human rights and the rule of law, and ridding the country of corruption.
"The months leading up to the December 6 elections will show the world whether Venezuela is willing to take even modest steps toward this end," he added.
Corker met with government officials, as well as representatives of the Venezuelan opposition, and journalists. An aide said he did not meet with Maduro.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Ken Wills)