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Venezuela, U.S. Have Met 'Secretly' for Months, Maduro Says

Jose Orozco and Alex Vasquez
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Venezuela, U.S. Have Met 'Secretly' for Months, Maduro Says

(Bloomberg) -- Venezuelan officials have been holding “secret meetings” with “high-ranking” U.S. counterparts for months, President Nicolas Maduro said.

“There have been contacts with high-ranking U.S. government officials in the Trump administration and my government under my express authorization to try resolving the conflict,” Maduro said in a speech broadcast Tuesday on state television. Maduro said he was ready to speak directly with President Donald Trump about Venezuela. He gave no further details on the meetings.

Following those remarks, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said that Venezuelan officials who are reaching out to the U.S. are actually doing so without Maduro’s permission.

“The only items discussed by those who are reaching out behind Maduro’s back are his departure and free and fair elections,” he said in a Twitter post. “To end the pilfering of the Venezuelan people’s resources and continued repression, Maduro must go.”

Venezuela Socialist Party Vice President Diosdado Cabello on Monday denied an AP report that he met secretly with a U.S. intermediary. Meanwhile, representatives of Venezuela’s opposition who are participating in talks with the government are currently in the U.S. to meet with officials there, National Assembly President Juan Guaido said earlier.

Earlier this year, Guaido and other opposition leaders held secret talks of their own for two months with high-ranking officials in the Maduro regime, but, according to the Trump administration and the opposition, some reneged on a power-sharing deal at the last minute. On April 30, Guaido and his team appeared outside a Caracas airbase before dawn, but the uprising sputtered hours later when top military brass ignored the call to abandon the regime and security forces retook the streets.

Read more - Why Venezuela Has Two Presidents, One Thorny Standoff

Maduro’s regime cracked down on opposition lawmakers in the aftermath and replaced Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera, part of the plot and head of the intelligence service, who left the country soon after. The U.S. later lifted sanctions for Figuera, who is currently in the U.S. offering details about Maduro’s rule and embezzlement schemes. Figuera and Guaido believed other top officials were with them, including the president of the Supreme Court and the defense minister.

Earlier this month, Maduro’s government broke off talks with the Venezuelan opposition in Barbados in response to a new batch of U.S. sanctions. Maduro decided not to send his delegation due to “serious and brutal aggression” by the Trump administration, including the illegal blockade of economic and financial activity, the government said.

Even after the cancellation of talks, government and opposition representatives continue to consider elections for lawmakers and the presidency in the coming year or two, according to participants sworn to secrecy. They could even happen as Maduro remains in office, contrary to opposition leader Guaido’s long-held position, the officials said.

Representatives of Norway, which is sponsoring the talks, met with both sides last week in Venezuela. The government said it seeks to restart talks under a new “mechanism.”

The meetings with U.S. officials have been shrouded in total secrecy, Maduro said.

“There have been secret meetings in secret places with secret people that no one should know about,” Maduro said in the live broadcast.

(Adds comments from U.S. national security adviser in third paragraph.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Jose Orozco in Mexico City at jorozco8@bloomberg.net;Alex Vasquez in Caracas Office at avasquez45@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ney Hayashi at ncruz4@bloomberg.net, ;Daniel Cancel at dcancel@bloomberg.net, Robert Jameson, Walter Brandimarte

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