• U.S. Secretary of State Kerry meets Venezuelan counterpart
  • Free political prisoners, respect referendum process: Kerry

Venezuela and the U.S. will begin talks to normalize relations as President Nicolas Maduro said he’s ready to exchange ambassadors.

Venezuela Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for 40 minutes in the Dominican Republic Tuesday, Maduro said on state television. The U.S. requested the meeting, he added.

“They proposed that we start a new stage of dialogue with new channels and with high-level visits. I said approved,” Maduro said.

The U.S. supports a dialogue between the government and opposition to resolve the country’s “political, economic, social and humanitarian dimensions of this crisis,” Kerry said earlier. Kerry called on Venezuela to free political prisoners, alleviate shortages and respect the process started by the opposition of seeking to hold a referendum on Maduro’s rule.

“I’ve asked for a while that the conspiracy be stopped. That won’t happen overnight. I like President Obama,” Maduro said.

Kerry and Rodriguez met on the sidelines of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States in Santo Domingo. Kerry said the U.S. supported the talks fostered by former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, former Dominican President Leonel Fernandez, and former Panamanian President Martin Torrijos aimed at helping resolve the standoff between Maduro’s government and the opposition, according to U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

‘Sacred Word’

Maduro said the opposition had waited too long to start the process for a recall referendum to be held this year. He swore on Saturday that any vote would only be held next year if it happens at all.

Venezuela’s opposition has accused the government of trying to delay the referendum into next year, which would allow the vice president to take over if Maduro is recalled instead of holding fresh elections. Venezuela opposition Governor Henrique Capriles met with the presidents of Paraguay and Argentina on Monday on a regional tour to rally support as he pushes for a recall referendum this year. On Tuesday, Capriles met with Brazil Foreign Minister Jose Serra.

“If the CNE says that all the requirements have been fulfilled to hold the second recall referendum in the history of Venezuela and humanity, I’ll say let’s go to battle,” Maduro said referring to the National Electoral Council. “But if the CNE says that they don’t meet all the constitutional requirements and the referendum won’t be called, then that’s the sacred word and all of Venezuela must accept it.”

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