The United States Thursday urged the Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chavez to support a "fair and credible" process for resolving the bitter dispute over petitions for Mr. Chavez' recall.
The Bush administration is urging parties in Venezuela to reject violence on the eve of a new effort to settle the dispute over the anti-Chavez recall effort.
Starting Friday, Venezuelan voters will be able to reconfirm their signatures on petitions submitted earlier this year for a recall referendum on the tenure of the controversial president.
Recall supporters say they had collected nearly 3.5 million signatures for the special vote. But the government said it had been able to verify less than two million - about a half million short of the minimum required by law.
At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher read a statement by Secretary of State Colin Powell calling the signature confirmation exercise a "defining moment" for Venezuelan democracy, and saying it will help Venezuelans end the crippling political dispute, and build a better future.
"The secretary in his statement urges the Venezuelan government to honor the wishes of its people by supporting a fair and credible process that produces prompt results in an atmosphere free from fear and intimidation," he said. "He also calls on the Venezuelans to reject violence as incompatible with the exercise of democracy."
The Powell statement said the United States supports a peaceful, democratic, constitutional and electoral solution to Venezuela's political impasse.
He said the presence of observer missions by the Organization of American States and the Carter Center of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter for the re-count will promote greater transparency and credibility.
Mr. Carter himself is due in Venezuela Saturday to join the monitoring effort.
President Chavez has frequently clashed with the United States over his populist policies and close ties with, among others, Cuban President Fidel Castro.
He has accused the Bush administration of supporting the recall effort as well as a military revolt that briefly ousted him from power in 2002.
In a commentary earlier this week in The Washington Post, the Venezuelan leader said he hoped his opponents will be shown to have gathered enough signatures for a recall vote, because he welcomes the opportunity to again "win the people's mandate."
A former army officer who once led a coup attempt of his own in Caracas, Mr. Chavez was first elected in 1998, and won a six-year second term in 2000.