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Signs of US-Venezuelan Rapprochement at Hemispheric Summit


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says he intends to send an ambassador back to Washington after a seven-month absence. Mr. Chavez made the announcement at the fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, where hemispheric leaders discussed economic and environmental challenges, as well as issues of democratic governance.

After two days of greetings and handshakes between President Barack Obama and his Venezuelan counterpart, President Chavez said he has decided to name a new ambassador to the United States.

Last September, Venezuela expelled the U.S. ambassador to Caracas in solidarity with Bolivia, which had done the same, accusing the United States of fomenting political unrest in the South American nation. Washington responded in kind.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Chavez gave President Obama a book and responded favorably to the U.S. leader's stated intention to forge a new beginning with Cuba, a Venezuelan ally.

The Associated Press quotes a State Department official as saying the United States and Venezuela will work on returning ambassadors to both Washington and Caracas.

President Chavez' diplomatic announcement came near the end of day-long hemispheric consultations at the fifth Summit of the Americas.

Although not present at the gathering, Cuba overshadowed much of the proceedings. U.S. officials acknowledge disagreement at the summit over a final declaration, to be issued Sunday. A draft of the document negotiated months ago reportedly says nothing about the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba, a sore point for much of the hemisphere.

After discussing ways to combat the global economic downturn and financial crisis, leaders turned their attention to energy and environmental concerns. U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu was on hand for discussions, and said island nations in the Caribbean and elsewhere would be hardest-hit by the effects of global warming.

"Caribbean countries face rising oceans and an increase in the severity of hurricanes," Chu said. "If Greenland melts, we are looking at a 7-meter sea level rise around the world. Some island states will disappear."

President Obama proposed creating a hemispheric partnership to tackle energy and climate issues. Administration officials say the initiative would promote energy conservation and the development of alternative fuels to cut back on greenhouse gases blamed for warming the earth's temperature.

President Obama said he came to the summit with the goal of listening, not dictating, to his peers in the Americas, and with a goal of renewing and rejuvenating America's ties with its neighbors.

The message was well received by El Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes.

Mr. Funes says he perceives good intentions from Mr. Obama and that the U.S. leader should be taken at his word that he comes to listen, not to impose his will on the region. Mr. Funes says now is the time to seize the opportunity, to forge better relations and confront challenges together.

That view is not shared by Bolivian President Evo Morales, however. Mr. Morales said President Obama speaks of changing in the way the United States deals with other nations, but such change is not perceived in his country.

President Obama is expected to hold a news conference later Sunday at the conclusion of the summit.


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