STATE DEPARTMENT —
The United States on Friday urged Venezuela to return to its constitution and hold open and democratic elections.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government to "restore the duly elected assembly, dismantle the illegitimate constituent assembly, and return to free, fair elections."
"What we would like to see happen there is a peaceful transition," said Tillerson during a joint news conference with Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland in Mexico City.
The top U.S. diplomat's remarks came as Venezuela's ruling Socialist Party formally selected Maduro to run for re-election in the upcoming presidential election, with his leading opponents barred from standing.
The Venezuelan president has accused the United States of leading an international effort to topple his socialist administration, announced in January that he would seek a second six-year term and called for an election by April 30.
Freeland on Friday criticized Maduro's government for "systematically violating human rights" and the fundamental freedoms of its people.
Washington has said the election would lack legitimacy under the current dire economic conditions in the country, with millions of Venezuelans lacking access to basic goods and medical supplies.
State Department officials have said such a vote would be "neither free nor fair" and would only deepen national tensions in Venezuela.
On Friday, Mexico's Videgaray called Venezuela's current situation "very painful" and said Venezuelans must find a peaceful solution to the democratic crisis facing the country.
"Mexico is not going to support the decision that supports violence," he said.
A day earlier, Tillerson said in Texas that the United States was not seeking a regime change in Venezuela.
Instead, a senior State Department official said the U.S. would use "all its political, diplomatic and economic tools to address the situation" during Tillerson's visit to Latin America.
But the official said he did not expect new sanctions against Venezuelan individuals and entities to be announced during Tillerson's trip.
Venezuela is in its fifth year of a worsening political and economic crisis.
In January, the U.S. Treasury added four current or former Venezuelan senior military officials to its sanctions list, accusing them of corruption and repression that have contributed to critical shortages of food and medicine and the erosion of human rights.
The European Union has also imposed sanctions, while the head of the Organization of American States has called for democratic reforms in Venezuela.