Venezuela’s president Nicolás Maduro has described landmark talks he held with a US government delegation as “respectful” and “cordial”, as Washington explores a rapprochement with Caracas to secure alternative oil supplies to Russia.
Mr Maduro said the parties met for nearly two hours at the weekend in the presidential palace in Caracas – the first high-level meeting between the two nations since 2019 when they severed diplomatic ties.
"We agreed to work on a forward-looking agenda," Mr Maduro said in a late-night televised address on Monday. "We'll press ahead with the conversations, the co-ordinations, and a positive agenda for the government of the United States and the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. "
The meeting appears to mark a major policy shift for the US, which used to be the biggest buyer of Venezuelan oil until the Trump administration slapped sanctions on Caracas in 2019, closing its embassy there and accusing Mr Maduro of stealing a presidential election the previous year.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the resulting US and EU sanctions on Moscow have prompted western countries to look around the world for alternative sources of energy. The search has gained new urgency with Washington discussing extending the sanctions to Moscow's oil exports.
Washington may also see the Ukrainian conflict as an opportunity to coax Maduro away from Moscow’s embrace in exchange for easing sanctions on Venezuelan oil.
Earlier on Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed the Caracas meeting and said the parties had discussed "a range of issues including certainly energy security". She described the talks process as "ongoing".
“What we’re trying to do is engage with energy producers and those with reserves of oil supply to make sure that we are addressing the supply in the marketplace,” she said. “We need to engage with all sorts of countries around the world.”
Mr Maduro said he had been joined in the meeting by his wife Cilia Flores, a lawyer and congresswoman, and Jorge Rodríguez, head of the Venezuelan congress and Mr Maduro's former vice-president.
The US delegation included Juan Gonzalez, senior director for western hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council, and Jimmy Story, the US ambassador to Venezuela, who since 2019 has been based in Bogotá.
The administration of former US president Donald Trump recognised opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela's legitimate president in 2018 instead of Mr Maduro and persuaded about 60 other nations to follow suit.
Since then Mr Guaidó’s support has dwindled and many of the countries that once recognised him, particularly in the EU, no longer do so.
The Trump-era sanctions crushed Venezuela’s economy but Mr Maduro tightened his grip on power and has survived with the support of Cuba, Russia and China. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022