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Author`s name Alex Naumov

Venezuela and US officials hold bilateral meeting to improve ties

Diplomats laid the groundwork for a possible visit by Washington's top diplomat for Latin America.

Venezuelan and US diplomats have been holding noiseless but restless contacts to improve bilateral ties and cease verbal attacks that have seriously affected relations between both antagonists nations. According to Caracas, senior officials from both countries held a rare meeting on Monday and laid the groundwork for a possible visit by Washington's top diplomat for Latin America.

The meeting took place at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Sources told that Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro had "very cordial," hour-long talks with Thomas Shannon, the U.S. diplomat in charge of relations with Latin America.

It was the first time the two men had met and Shannon expressed interest in visiting Venezuela, the ministry said. Shannon would visit Caracas after the Chavez’s administration shook the world by inviting the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for talks in the Venezuelan capital.

Despite the meeting, Maduro delivered a speech at the General Assembly on Tuesday that was sharply critical of the Bush administration, especially over Iraq, where he said its policy had been "filled with hate and evil". The United States had spent $610 billion making war in Iraq that could have been better used to build millions of homes, hospitals and schools in poor countries, Maduro said.

Last year, diplomats from both countries tried to organize a trip by Shannon but Chavez vetoed the tentative plan, according to officials from both sides. But last month, the president, who calls Cuban leader Fidel Castro his mentor, publicly urged Bush to help him as he seeks to mediate the release of hostages, including three Americans, held by rebels in Colombia.

The affair of the hostages held in Colombia by armed insurgent groups has draw the attention of Chavez since he offered himself to mediate between guerrilla groups and the government in Bogota. Chavez met with relatives of the captured men last week and promised to discuss the issue with his Colombian counterpart, Alvaro Uribe, as soon as they meet further this month.

The president of Venezuela has also asked for help in his mediation efforts to France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, since a French-Colombian politician is being held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, somewhere in the Andean jungles.

Hernan Etchaleco