(Adds Maduro says government working on vaccine deal)
CARACAS, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Venezuelan government officialsand opposition leaders have met to discuss buying coronavirusvaccines through the COVAX program using cash frozen in theUnited States by economic sanctions, two sources familiar withthe matter said on Thursday.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido last week said that Venezuelanfunds controlled by the U.S. Treasury Department could be usedto pay for vaccines. The cash-strapped government of PresidentNicolas Maduro has signed up for COVAX, co-led by the WorldHealth Organization (WHO) to provide vaccines globally, but hasnot made the associated payments.
The meeting marks a step forward in what will likely be along process requiring that U.S. authorities approve the use ofthe funds, as well as the completion of a vaccination roll-outplan for crisis-stricken Venezuela.
In a Thursday evening state television appearance, Madurosaid the government was working on a $300 million deal forvaccine supplies, but did not provide details
"We are looking for a practical, effective agreement tocreate a $300 million fund for Venezuela's vaccines with the PanAmerican Health Organization (PAHO), with the WHO," Maduro said.
The United States in 2019 froze $342 million held byVenezuela's central bank in the United States as part of asanctions program that was meant to force Maduro from power.
Moving the funds usually requires applying for license fromthe U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Control.
The Pan American Health Organization's Chief of Mission inVenezuela, Paolo Balladelli, in a tweet said there had beenadvances in obtaining vaccines for Venezuela, and that Unicefand the World Health Organization would be involved.
"Today, with the will of the political, technical andacademic actors of Venezuela, the National Roundtable for Accessto the COVAX Strategy has advanced to guarantee access tovaccines against COVID-19," he wrote.
The Pan American Health Organization did not respond to arequest for comment seeking confirmation that his tweet referredto a meeting between the government and Guaido representatives.
One of the participants in the meeting was Julio Castro, adoctor and medical advisor to Guaido, said sources, who askednot to be identified.
Castro did not respond to messages seeking comment, but onTwitter also suggested there had been a meeting.
"Today the National Table for Access to the COVAX Strategywas established," he wrote. "We welcome the beginning of theconstruction of a joint strategy among all."
Balladelli last week said that between 1.4 million and 2.4million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine had been reserved forVenezuela. At $10 per dose, those vaccines would cost between$140 million and $240 million.
(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth and Vivian Sequera; additionalreporting by Luc Cohen; Editing by Grant McCool)