Venezuela's Chavez optimistic as foreign minister headed to Colombia, Silva seeks to mediate

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Hugo Chavez said Friday that his foreign minister will attend the inauguration of Colombia's new president, and he expressed optimism that Brazil's president may help ease tensions between Venezuela and Colombia.

The visit by Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro could be a first step toward restoring dialogue and mending relations between Venezuela and U.S.-allied Colombia.

Chavez cut diplomatic ties with Colombia on July 22 after the government of outgoing President Alvaro Uribe released evidence that it says shows Venezuela gives haven to Colombian rebels.

Maduro will depart for Bogota on Saturday morning to attend the inauguration of Colombian President-elect Juan Manuel Santos, Chavez said, according to the state-run Venezuelan News Agency.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has been seeking to encourage talks between the neighbors and will also attend Saturday's inauguration in Bogota.

After meeting with Silva, Chavez said the Brazilian leader is going to Colombia with "a mission that we've discussed quite a bit today."

"We're very optimistic," Chavez said, declining to give details of what they discussed.

Chavez has said he hopes Santos' approach is different from that of his hard-line predecessor Uribe.

Trade between Venezuela and Colombia has fallen sharply since Chavez froze relations a year ago in response to Colombia's decision to grant the U.S. military expanded access to its military bases.