August 29, 2005

Venezuela softens stance on U.S. ties, drugs

By Patrick Markey

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez said on Monday his government would renew cooperation
with Washington in the fight against drug trafficking in an
effort to improve ties strained by diplomatic squabbling.

Chavez's conciliatory gesture followed weeks of sniping
between Venezuela and the United States after the left-wing
leader suspended cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration and accused its agents of spying.

Addressing reporters after meeting with U.S. activist Rev.
Jesse Jackson, Chavez said his government wanted to ease
tensions between his government and the administration of
President Bush.

"Despite of the differences and the tense relations..., we
are willing to continue working with the government of Mr. Bush
in the fight against drugs," Chavez said with Jackson sitting
by his side.

"We have no intention of damaging relations any further on
the contrary we want to improve them in politics and in

Relations between the United States and Venezuela, the
world's No. 5 oil exporter, have chilled since Chavez came to
power in 1998 ushering in social reforms and forging close
diplomatic ties with Communist Cuba.

Washington portrays Chavez as a menace to the region, but
the former soldier counters that his self-proclaimed revolution
is an alternative to failed U.S. polices in South America.

Chavez often accuses the United States of plotting to kill
him. Tensions were heightened further last week when
conservative U.S. evangelist Pat Robertson called on Washington
to assassinate Chavez. Robertson later apologized and U.S.
officials called his remarks inappropriate.

Chavez held private talks with Jackson on Monday, during
which they discussed Robertson's comments, bilateral relations
and initiatives for the poor.

"What we discussed is the need for a detente in the hostile
rhetoric," Jackson told reporters.

After Venezuela suspended ties with the DEA, the United
States revoked the U.S. visas of three top Venezuelan military
officers, including the National Guard narcotics squad chief,
who Washington said were suspected of drug trafficking.

Following Robertson's comments, Venezuelan authorities said
they had temporarily suspended permits for foreign missionaries
while they tightened regulations on religious groups entering
the South American country.