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US Urges Venezuelans to Consider Settlement Proposals - 2003-01-24


The United States is urging the sides in Venezuela's political dispute to give careful consideration to settlement proposals offered earlier this week by former President Jimmy Carter. Secretary of State Colin Powell joins in a meeting on Venezuela Friday at the Washington headquarters of the Organization of American States, the OAS.

Mr. Powell will join foreign ministers or senior representatives from Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Spain and Portugal at the OAS just a few blocks from the State Department for an event launching the informal six-nation grouping, known as the "Friends of Venezuela."

First proposed by Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula de Silva, the group is aimed at adding diplomatic support to OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria. The OAS chief has been in Caracas almost-continually since early November trying to mediate the crisis between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and opposition groups demanding his ouster.

Mr. Gaviria will attend the Washington meeting before his expected return to Venezuela this coming weekend. The Bush administration has thrown its full weight behind Mr. Gaviria's quest for a peaceful, constitutional and electoral solution to the Venezuelan conflict, partly because its own ability to mediate is limited by what has been an antagonistic relationship with the populist Mr. Chavez.

At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher did express strong support for the Venezuela peace-making effort by former President Jimmy Carter, who completed a mission to Venezuela earlier this week.

Mr. Carter offered two alternate electoral proposals which spokesman Boucher said merit serious consideration.

"One was for a constitutional amendment that would shorten terms of the president and the national assembly to be followed by elections," he said. "He put forward a second option and it calls for a referendum in August which can trigger presidential elections in September. We think these options offer both sides in Venezuela an excellent basis to craft a solution to the immediate impasse, with international support for implementation of the agreement. So we'll see if they will pick those up. We do think the government and the opposition should consider these options very carefully."

President Chavez has said he is open to the proposals put forth by Mr. Carter, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for his career of peace-making including the Camp David accords between Egypt and Israel.

First elected in 1998, Mr. Chavez' current six-year term runs through 2006, but Venezuela's constitution allows for a referendum at the mid-point of his term next August the basis of one of Mr. Carter's two proposals. Opposition forces in Venezuela contend the country is too polarized to wait for August ballot.

Mr. Carter said any settlement deal should mean an end to the opposition-organized general strike, which has lasted for more than 50 days and crippled Venezuela's economy including its critical state-run oil industry.

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