POLITICS

State Dept. official, President Maduro meet to discuss improving U.S.-Venezuela relations

Left: Thomas Shannon Jr.,counselor of the State Department, prior to a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, July 17, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images) Right: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on September 23, 2013 in Beijing, China. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images)

Left: Thomas Shannon Jr.,counselor of the State Department, prior to a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, July 17, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images) Right: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on September 23, 2013 in Beijing, China. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images)

Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro and high-ranking U.S. State Department envoy, Tom Shannon, reportedly met in Caracas to continue discussions intended to repair diplomatic relations between the two countries.

An unnamed U.S. official told AFP via e-mail that “The Venezuelan government invited the State Department counselor, Ambassador Tom Shannon, to return to Caracas to continue direct bilateral discussions” which began in April, before the Summit of the Americas in Panama.

A source at the U.S. embassy in Caracas confirmed to Fox News Latino that Maduro met with Shannon in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

“The meeting lasted for two hours, from midnight to 2 a.m.,” the staffer, who is not authorized to speak about the meeting and requested anonymity, said. “I can’t tell you what they talked about, because I didn’t see anything in writing-- Not talking points or minutes, nothing.”

Shannon, a former U.S. ambassador to Brazil, arrived in Caracas on Sunday and left Tuesday after the meeting.

During his first visit, less than a month ago, Shannon also met with members of Unidad (“Unity”), or MUD in its acronym, the coalition of opposition parties that is nominating a unified ledger of candidates for parliamentary elections later this year.

He didn’t meet with any members of the opposition during his most recent trip.

The National Election Council has yet to set an exact date for the election, which is widely being seen as a referendum on Maduro, whose two years in office have been turbulent, to the say the least, with escalating inflation, soaring street crime, a plunge in the value of the country’s currency, tighter limits on press freedom and dozens killed in violent street demonstrations.

While the two countries maintain embassies in each other’s capitals, they have been without ambassadors since 2010. Relations further soured earlier this year, when President Barack Obama declared sanctions against seven high-ranking Venezuelan officials for human-rights violations and declaring the country to be an “extraordinary threat” to the U.S.

Despite that, the U.S. remains Venezuela’s largest trade partner and the biggest purchaser of petroleum, and Venezuela is the U.S.’s third-biggest trade partner in Latin America after Mexico and Brazil.

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Carlos Camacho is a freelance writer based in Caracas. You can follow him @carloselpana.

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