Chavez considers restoring diplomatic ties with US (Lead)

April 19th, 2009 - 1:15 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama Port of Spain, April 19 (DPA) President Hugo Chavez Saturday said he was considering restoring Venezuela’s diplomatic ties with the US, in light of the change in policy under new US President Barack Obama.
“We are considering it with great attention and I think there could soon start to be work meetings,” Chavez said on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.

Some of the day’s discussions centred around Cuba, the only country in the Americas that is not represented at the summit. The communist island was suspended from the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1962, at Washington’s behest.

“We will continue to evaluate and watch what happens. We’re anxious to see what the Cuban government is willing to step up to do,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

As the summit opened Friday, Obama promised “a new beginning” in relations between Washington and Havana. However, Gibbs stressed that the ball was in Cuba’s court.

“The Cuban government can release political prisoners. The Cuban government can stop taking money from remittances,” he said. “They can do more on freedom of the press. There’s a lot that the Cuban government can do to demonstrate its responsibilities and its willingness to change that relationship.”

Another potential sore point didn’t prove to be problematic after all. The first meeting between Obama and Chavez - an outspoken critic of US policy - was a “good start”, the Venezuelan president said.

“We have started to talk with Obama, and in itself that is a start, a good start. I believe we have started with positive steps,” Chavez told reporters.

Diplomatic ties between Venezuela and the US were suspended in September 2008, when the US ambassador in Venezuela was expelled. The decision was made in “solidarity” with a similar move by the Bolivian government because of an alleged US conspiracy against Bolivian President Evo Morales.

“It is possible that we ourselves start to evaluate the designation of our ambassador in the United States. We want to walk in that direction,” Chavez said. “We take Obama’s word, despite the differences that we, of course, have.”

However, the Venezuelan insisted that his country and its left-governed allies Bolivia, Nicaragua, Dominica and Honduras were not planning to sign the final declaration of the Summit of the Americas in protest at Cuba’s exclusion from the meeting.

“There is no time to change the document. We would have liked to discuss it, but since there is no time, we will not sign it,” Chavez said.

Earlier Saturday, Obama met with Chavez and other presidents of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur).

“I have a lot to learn and I very much look forward to listening and figuring out how we can work together more effectively,” Obama said as he opened the meeting. He pointed out the commonalities between the two sides, despite their apparent differences.

Chavez delivered what Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim described as a “surprisingly short” and “very correct” speech, and he expressed the hope for change that Obama embodies and looked to the future.

The summit ends Sunday.

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