September 03, 2008
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. government said Tuesday it needs to see changes from Venezuela's government before the two countries can have a better relationship in the fight against drugs.
The comments followed Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's warning that U.S. Ambassador Patrick Duddy risks expulsion after the ambassador said drug traffickers are taking advantage of the ''gap'' that exists between the United Stats and Venezuela.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters that the U.S. government is ''prepared to have a better relationship'' but needs ``to see some actions on the side of the Venezuelan government.''
U.S. frustrations with Venezuela, he said, are ''based on facts; we can't change the facts.'' He said U.S. officials are ``going to continue to speak out about what we see happening inside Venezuela.''
U.S. anti-drug chief John Walters has said his attempt to restart cooperation has been stymied as Venezuelan officials have yet to agree to his request for a meeting.
In an Aug. 20 letter to Walters, Venezuela's ambassador to Washington, Bernardo Alvarez, said tentative dates for a meeting between Chávez and Walters ''are being evaluated'' while the Venezuelan president has an ``intense international and domestic agenda.''
Alvarez said visa requests for Walters and his team ``will be processed once the meeting has been confirmed.''
Walters said he aims to impose no conditions and would meet with ''whatever appropriate officials'' in Venezuela in order to boost counter-drug cooperation, which the United States says is sorely lacking.
Walters also told The Associated Press recently that if the Venezuelans do not wish to meet, ''we don't have to start with a meeting,'' and ``the issue is: how do we start reducing the problem?''