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Once more with feeling? US holds ‘secret’ talks with Venezuela officials

Once more with feeling? US holds ‘secret’ talks with Venezuela officials
Faced with eight months of failed regime-change efforts, the US is trying to achieve its goals in Venezuela by holding secret talks with members of the government in Caracas, to the dismay of hawks and US-backed opposition.

Following news reports about the secret negotiations, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and US President Donald Trump have both confirmed some kind of talks were going on, but would not say more. 

“We’ve had secret meetings in secret places with secret people that nobody knows,” Maduro said, adding that he personally authorized the talks. “There’s been contact and we’ll continue having contact.”

“I don’t want to say who,” Trump told reporters on Tuesday, when asked about Venezuela. “But we’re talking at a very high level.”

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Citing multiple anonymous sources, AP and the Wall Street Journal reported that the talks involved Diosdado Cabello, head of the Constituent Assembly in Caracas. The body was elected in 2017 to draft a new constitution, but the US has refused to recognize it, insisting that the National Assembly last elected in 2015 was Venezuela’s only legitimate legislature, and even recognizing its chair Juan Guaido as “interim president” of the country. 

Cabello, however, described the rumors of his participation as a “lie” and “manipulation.” He would only agree to meet with the highest-ranking officials, in Venezuela, and with Maduro’s approval, he added.

“I meet with the owners of the circus, not with those who work for them,” he told reporters.

One of the purposes of the talks is to divide Maduro’s government and weaken him, the WSJ reported citing “people familiar with the US strategy,” whoever they might be. They say Cabello has sought guarantees he will be able to stay in Venezuela and participate in the upcoming elections – which seems to contradict the official’s public statements.

The only thing the US is willing to negotiate is the date of Maduro’s departure, the same sources said. That certainly falls in line with the position of US National Security Adviser John Bolton, one of the architects of Washington’s Venezuela policy, who declared again on Wednesday that “Maduro must go.”

“The only items discussed by those who are reaching out behind Maduro’s back are his departure and free and fair elections,” Bolton tweeted.

Guaido also chimed in, saying the talks were proof of the “contradictions of the regime” he called “disorganized” and effective only in “propaganda [and] lies.”

Yet the government has easily thwarted every attempt by Guaido to claim power in Caracas, including a military uprising at the end of April. Venezuela has also withstood more than eight months of US pressure, including sanctions, threat of an invasion and a trade blockade.

Washington now appears to be in a hurry, with the 2020 US election looming, and is pushing for some kind of deal in the “next few months, if not weeks,” according to the WSJ source. 

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