Brasília (AFP) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called for "respectful relations" when he shook hands with US Vice President Joe Biden on the sidelines of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's swearing in, he said Friday.
The encounter marked the first top-level meeting between the countries since US President Barack Obama signed a law allowing sanctions against Venezuelan officials suspected of violating the rights of protesters who held anti-government demonstrations last year.
"What do we ask of the United States? I told Vice President Biden -- and have said it 1,000 times in public and in private -- we want respectful relations, nothing more," Maduro told journalists Friday after a meeting with Rousseff.
Biden, however, reportedly praised the South American leader's hair in the brief but good-natured Thursday exchange.
Grinning he told Maduro: "If I had your hair, I'd be president of the United States," Brazilian financial daily Valor reported, adding Maduro guffawed at the quip.
The sanctions, signed by Obama in mid-December would freeze assets and deny visas to Venezuelan authorities responsible for violence and political detentions triggered by the protests.
Maduro slammed the US move as "a false step," insisting his government was "appreciated and backed by the whole continent, the whole of Latin America, the Caribbean, South America."
Relations between Washington and Caracas have been tense since Maduro's late leftist predecessor Hugo Chavez came to power in 1999, and the countries have not had ambassador-level links since 2010.
Meanwhile analysts see Havana's surprise move to restore diplomatic relations with Washington after half a century of hostility as leaving Caracas, Havana's close ally, further isolated in the region.
Biden was in Brazil representing the US administration as Washington strives to better relations with Brasilia after revelations in 2013 that the United States spied on Rousseff's communications.