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Veteran US Diplomat to Meet with Venezuela Officials amid Crisis

U.S. diplomat Tom Shannon (C) talks with Lee McClenny, Charge d'Affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, upon his arrival at Simon Bolivar Airport in Caracas, Venezuela, June 21, 2016.

Veteran U.S. diplomat Tom Shannon will meet with senior Venezuelan government and opposition officials Tuesday in Caracas, a week after Secretary of State John Kerry announced he wanted to ease tensions between the two countries.

"The main purpose is to have a series of discussions about the social, economic and political challenges in Venezuela and to try to help foster constructive, meaningful dialogue toward solutions with a variety of groups in the government and outside the government," said U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby.

Kerry announced plans to send Shannon, a veteran of U.S. diplomacy in the region, to Caracas after the secretary of state met with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez on the sidelines of a meeting of the Organization of American States in the Dominican Republic.

Washington is hopeful Shannon will meet President Nicolas Maduro, Kirby said, but added there was no confirmation of a meeting.

In a televised speech Tuesday afternoon, leftist Maduro welcomed Shannon to the OPEC country.

"I think it's very good that the right steps are taken to rebuild relations with the United States," said Maduro.

Kerry said he wanted to move relations with Caracas beyond "the old rhetoric" as Venezuela deals with a deepening political and economic crisis. Severe shortages of food and medicines have sparked riots and looting.

An aide to Henry Ramos, opposition head of Venezuela's national assembly, said he would meet with Shannon on Tuesday.

Venezuela and the United States have repeatedly gone through periods of diplomatic fighting followed by generally short-lived eras of reconciliation. Shannon led diplomatic efforts last year to ease tensions but the talks were stalled by Venezuela's deepening crisis.

By opening talks with Venezuela, Kerry also hopes it will lead to international mediation between the government and the opposition, which is pushing for a recall referendum to remove Maduro.