Venezuela, US Move to Restore Expelled Ambassadors

MARACAY, Venezuela (AP) - Venezuela and the United States said
Wednesday they will restore their ambassadors more than nine months
after President Hugo Chavez expelled the U.S. envoy in his final
diplomatic bout with the Bush administration.

But Chavez signaled he still has major differences with
Washington, accusing the U.S. of having a hand in recent protests
in Iran and saying he hopes President Barack Obama will lead the
United States on a new path.

"I hope that Obama takes charge of dismantling the empire,"
Chavez told reporters. He added that he hopes the "United States
starts to respect the world."

U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in Washington
that the time frame for restoring the ambassadors remained unclear,
but a top Venezuelan official said the exchange would happen soon.

Chavez - a fierce opponent of U.S. policy who once likened
President George W. Bush to the devil - has expressed hope for
improved relations with Washington following years of tensions with
the Bush administration. Obama says his government wants to improve
ties with all nations in the Americas.

Chavez's foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, said the governments
have agreed to overturn the "persona non grata" status given each
other's ambassadors in September, when Chavez expelled U.S.
Ambassador Patrick Duddy and recalled his envoy to Washington.

Chavez said at the time that he kicked out the ambassador to
show solidarity with Bolivia after Bolivian President Evo Morales
ordered out the top U.S. diplomat in his country, accusing him of
helping the opposition incite violence. Washington denied the
allegation and reacted by expelling the envoys of both Venezuela
and Bolivia.

Maduro said that he had spoken with Thomas Shannon, the top U.S.
diplomat for the Americas, and that they "effectively reached an
agreement on the proposal" to restore ambassadors as part of an
effort to improve relations.

"The two ambassadors will re-establish their positions
immediately - our ambassador, Bernardo Alvarez, in Washington and
the U.S. ambassador, Patrick Duddy, in Caracas," Maduro said.

Kelly told reporters in Washington that the two nations are
"currently taking the necessary measures" to exchange
ambassadors, but said it was unclear when it would happen or who
the U.S. envoy would be.

After hostile relations with the Bush administration, Chavez has
warmed to the Obama administration. He greeted the new U.S.
president with handshakes at an April summit in Trinidad and
Tobago, where he discussed restoring ambassadors with U.S.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

But as he hosted a summit of like-minded leftist leaders
Wednesday, Chavez criticized U.S. policies toward Bolivia and
called for an end to the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

He also strongly criticized the United States for canceling more
than $60 million in assistance to Nicaragua over concerns about
democracy, saying "that's imperialism."

Chavez said he suspects U.S. and European intelligence services
have been involved in stirring up post-election protests in Iran.
He didn't offer evidence but said the unrest follows a pattern seen
in various countries, where "behind it is the CIA and the imperial
hand of European countries and the United States."

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