(Al Jazeera) Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro says he has agreed on an agenda for future talks with United States officials after meeting a delegation from Washington over the weekend, the first high-level discussions between the two countries in years.
“Last Saturday night a delegation from the government of the United States of America arrived in Venezuela, I received it here at the presidential palace,” Maduro said in a broadcast on state media on Monday. “We had a meeting, I could describe it as respectful, cordial, very diplomatic,” he added.
The meeting in the capital, Caracas, lasted two hours, he said, without specifying the topics discussed or who the US delegates were.
The White House said on Monday the purpose of the trip was to discuss a number of issues, including “energy security” and the cases of nine US citizens who are in prison in Venezuela.
“Obviously, we’re going to continue to do everything we can to bring anyone who is detained in Venezuela or any other part of the world home, but they happen through different tracks,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. “They’re all a part of the conversation with Venezuela writ large, but not at the same time,” she said.
The trip to Caracas comes as Washington seeks to isolate Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
Maduro, with whom the US broke off relations in 2019, has been among the few international figures to assure Russian President Vladimir Putin of his “strong support” in the wake of the invasion.
The US has imposed a battery of sanctions on Caracas in a bid to force Maduro from power, including a 2019 measure that prevents Venezuela from trading its crude oil – which accounted for 96 percent of the country’s revenues – on the US market.
The White House has indicated it is examining how to reduce Russian oil imports without harming US consumers and while maintaining global supply – although Psaki said Monday no decision had been made on a possible ban on Russian oil.
Since breaking off diplomatic relations with Caracas in 2019, Washington has refused to deal with the Maduro government, instead treating opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president.
Members of Venezuela’s opposition also held a “sustained meeting” with the visiting US delegation, according to Guaido’s office.
The US is one of nearly 60 countries to recognise Guaido as Venezuela’s acting president, having rejected Maduro’s 2018 reelection in a poll widely viewed as fraudulent.
Washington signalled last month it would be willing to review its sanctions policy towards Venezuela if talks between Maduro’s government and the opposition moved forward.