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Venezuela, US Officials Hold Rare Talks on Relations


Senior officials from Venezuela and the United States have held rare talks aimed at improving relations and laying the groundwork for a possible visit to Caracas by a top U.S. diplomat.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro and Thomas Shannon, the top U.S. envoy to Latin America, met Monday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

Venezuela's foreign ministry said in a statement late Monday that the two officials held "very cordial" talks, with Shannon expressing interest in visiting Caracas.

The statement said the two also discussed efforts by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to help negotiate the release of Colombian rebel-held hostages, including three Americans.

The U.S. and Venezuela typically have little diplomatic contact. Washington has accused Mr. Chavez of being a destabilizing force in the region, and Mr. Chavez is a fierce critic of the U.S.

Last month, Mr. Chavez suggested that American lawmakers could help negotiate the release of the hostages in Colombia. They are being held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

He made the comment after meeting in Caracas with the families of three Americans held captive since 2003. The U.S. State Department contractors were abducted after their plane was shot down during an anti-drug mission.

The FARC wants hundreds of its prisoners released in exchange for the three Americans. Two of the prisoners FARC wants freed are jailed in the United States.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.