February 15, 2019 / 1:34 AM / a month ago

U.S. envoy Abrams met secretly with Venezuela foreign minister: AP report

FILE PHOTO: Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs Jorge Arreaza displays a copy of the Constitution of Venezuela as he delivers remarks in the press briefing room at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, U.S. February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

CARACAS (Reuters) - The U.S. special envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, met secretly with Venezuela’s foreign minister as recently as this week, the Associated Press reported on Thursday, citing President Nicolas Maduro and a senior Venezuelan official.

Washington has disavowed Maduro’s government and backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, who last month invoked articles of the constitution to assume the presidency on promises to end a humanitarian crisis caused by an economic collapse.

Venezuela’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, met twice with Abrams in New York for several hours and invited him to come to Venezuela “privately, publicly or secretly,” Maduro said in an interview.

“If (Abrams) wants to meet, just tell me when, where and how and I’ll be there,” the AP quoted Maduro saying.

The most recent meeting was on Monday, the AP reported, citing a senior Venezuelan official.

Abrams on Feb. 7 said that the time for dialogue with Maduro “has long passed,” except to negotiate his departure.

“It should come as no surprise that State Department officials exchange opinions with a wide variety of foreign interlocutors, especially while we continue to take all steps to ensure the safety and security of our Embassy personnel,” a State Department official said in a response to a query.

A senior Trump administration official added, “The United States is willing to meet with former Venezuela officials, including Maduro himself, to discuss their exit plans.”

Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Roberta Rampton in Washington; editing by Leslie Adler

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