The State Department said it was encouraged Monday by appeals of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for national reflection, and it urged Venezuelans to end political polarization.

Spokesman Philip Reeker said the 34-member Organization of American States should play a vital role in restoring "the essential elements" of democracy in Venezuela.

OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria flew to Caracas on a fact-finding mission Monday ahead of a special meeting of OAS foreign ministers about the political tumult that has shaken Venezuela in recent days.

Chavez appeared to have been driven from power Friday as a result of a popular uprising, only to be reinstated Sunday after a strong show of support by his supporters.

"We're encouraged by President Chavez's calls for national reflection," Reeker said. "And we urge all Venezuelans to take advantage of this opportunity to promote national reconciliation and a genuine democratic dialogue."

In a similar vein, former President Jimmy Carter issued a statement saying Venezuelans "must overcome the polarization and the temptation to lay blame, and instead seek new ways to listen to and understand each other."

He said Chavez had assured him that he and his government will create new mechanisms for dialogue and consultation with the political parties and social and civic organizations.

"I urge all those who oppose the policies of the government to participate in those mechanisms and to express their criticisms in a constructive manner," Carter said.

Last Friday, about nine hours after Chavez appeared to have been deposed, the State Department said he was to blame for his fate. A spokesman charged that Chavez authorized his followers to open fire on demonstrators, leaving more than a dozen dead and hundreds wounded.

When a successor government was installed Friday afternoon outside established succession procedures, the State Department evinced no concern despite long-standing U.S. insistence that proper procedures be scrupulously followed by hemispheric countries.

The administration seemed to feel differently early Sunday after Chavez was reinstated. It went along with an OAS resolution that condemned "the alteration of constitutional order in Venezuela."

Asked about the shift, Reeker said the Friday statement was based "on what appeared to be the facts at the time."

Later a senior State Department official told reporters that for democracy to succeed, there should be respect for democratic institutions by both the government and the opposition.

At no time, the official said, did Washington suggest to any Venezuelan opponent of Chavez that it would look with favor on a change in government outside the constitution.