Sat, Jan 21, 2006 - Page 7 News List

US and Venezuela officials reach new drugs agreement

AP , CARACAS

Venezuelan and US officials have approved a new cooperation agreement between the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the South American country, officials said on Thursday.

Tensions have surrounded the drug issue since August, when Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez suspended cooperation with the DEA, accusing its agents of spying. Since then, Venezuelan officials have said they would be willing to work with the US, but only under new terms.

"Washington has accepted the proposal made by Venezuela," said Luis Correa, Venezuela's top anti-drug official. "We have the written formal confirmation."

Neither US nor Venezuelan officials offered details of the new arrangement between the two nations. But Venezuelan officials have said in the past that the DEA would not be permitted to participate in armed drug busts.

US officials have suggested that the new agreement governing DEA work would essentially be a revised working arrangement rather than a formal accord because Venezuela and the US already have a 1978 bilateral drug accord.

"We have resolved our basic differences and we hope that we will be able to sign soon," said Salome Hernandez, a spokeswoman for the US Embassy in Caracas.

The new agreement will come into operation once it has been signed by Venezuelan Interior Minister Jesse Chacon and US Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield, Correa said.

Venezuelan officials have suggested that US officials would not be allowed to lead armed counter-drug operations in the country.

Chavez has had bitter relations with Washington, and last year the US declared that Venezuela had failed in its efforts to effectively fight drug trafficking and removed the nation from a list of cooperating countries.

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