Venezuela Stops Efforts to Improve U.S. Relations

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CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuela announced late Friday that it was stopping the latest round of off-again-on-again efforts to improve relations with the United States in reaction to comments by the Obama administration's nominee for United Nations ambassador.

The nominee, Samantha Power, speaking before a Senate committee on Wednesday, said that part of her role as ambassador would be to challenge a "crackdown on civil society" in several countries, including Venezuela. President Nicolás Maduro had already lashed out on Thursday at Ms. Power for her remarks, and late on Friday the Foreign Ministry said that it was terminating efforts to improve relations with the United States.

Those efforts had inched forward just last month after Secretary of State John Kerry publicly shook hands with the Venezuelan foreign minister, Elías Jaua, during an international meeting in Guatemala -- one of the highest level meetings between officials of the two countries in years.

Venezuela "will never accept interference of any kind in its internal affairs," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement, adding that it "considered terminated the process begun in the conversations in Guatemala that had as their goal the regularization of our diplomatic relations."

Relations with Venezuela have long been troubled, although the country has remained a major supplier of oil to the United States. Under the previous president, Hugo Chávez, a longtime nemesis of the United States, relations were bumpy, especially after the Bush administration tacitly supported a coup that briefly ousted him.

Mr. Maduro, Mr. Chávez's handpicked successor, has given mixed messages about relations with the United States.

In March, when Mr. Maduro was vice president, he kicked out two American military attachés, accusing them of seeking to undermine the government. After he was elected in April, he ordered the arrest of an American documentary filmmaker whom officials accused of trying to start a civil war. The filmmaker, Tim Tracy, was later expelled from the country.

And in recent days, in a sharp escalation of the war of words with Washington, Mr. Maduro has said that he would give asylum to Edward J. Snowden, the former American intelligence contractor who leaked secrets about American intelligence programs and is staying at a Moscow airport.

The United States and Venezuela have not had ambassadors in each other's capitals since 2008, when Mr. Chávez expelled the American envoy, accusing the United States of backing a group of military officers he said were plotting against him. The United States responded at the time by expelling Venezuela's ambassador.

In the Guatemala meeting, Mr. Kerry said that he hoped the two countries could rapidly move toward exchanging ambassadors again. But those talks never had time to gain traction. On July 12, Mr. Kerry telephoned Mr. Jaua to express concern over the asylum offer to Mr. Snowden.

This is not the first time that Venezuela has backed off the idea of renewed relations with the United States. The two countries quietly began talks late last year aimed at improving relations, although those ground to a halt after the health of Mr. Chávez, who had cancer, deteriorated in December.

After Mr. Chávez's death in March, a State Department official said that the United States hoped that the elections to replace him would meet democratic standards -- prompting Mr. Jaua to angrily announce that Venezuela was halting the talks between the two countries. Venezuelan officials have repeatedly said that relations with the United States should be conducted on a basis of respect.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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