Colombia seeks US role in Venezuela crisis talks

Colombia's Foreign Minister Claudia Blum met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for the first time since she took office in November 2019 (AFP Photo/Olivier Douliery)

Washington (AFP) - Colombia's new foreign minister met Thursday with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as Bogota called for Washington to back talks to resolve Venezuela's long political crisis.

Foreign Minister Claudia Blum, whose country has taken in about 1.4 million refugees from economically ravaged Venezuela, held talks with Pompeo at the State Department in their first meeting since she took office last month.

Colombia has strongly supported the US-backed effort to oust Venezuela's leftist leader Nicolas Maduro and install Juan Guaido, the National Assembly head.

But nearly a year after most Western and Latin American nations recognized Guaido as interim president, opposition efforts to take power have fizzled and Maduro still enjoys the support of Venezuela's military, Russia and China.

Addressing reporters ahead of Blum's meetings, Colombia's ambassador to Washington, Francisco Santos, said that the United States should play a direct role in talks among Venezuelans.

"I think if this is really going to go anywhere, America will have to be involved in guaranteeing that what is negotiated can become a reality," he said.

He said he expected that Venezuela's economic collapse, which for more than two years has made staple goods out of reach for many people, would force Maduro to negotiate in the new year.

"If we keep the pressure, some real negotiations are going to happen, and we will see what we all want, which is free presidential elections," he said.

"Will they be with Maduro or not? We don't know. But I think the economic crisis will bring this change to happen," he said.

The United States has taken a hard line on negotiations, saying that any talks should only lead to the exit of Maduro.

Norway has mediated talks between Maduro's and Guaido's representatives but the meetings broke down in August.

Maduro subsequently held "national table" discussions with fringe opposition parties, in what Guaido's main opposition and the West denounced as not inclusive enough to be relevant.