Sweden is hosting talks between major global powers with stakes in dealing with Venezuela’s political turmoil, the latest effort to jumpstart flagging attempts to find a peaceful solution to the national crisis.
A European diplomat on Thursday said that representatives of Russia, the UN, the Vatican, Cuba and the EU were attending the Stockholm meeting.
A US official with knowledge of the discussions said that the US was invited, but decided against participating.
“The talks in Stockholm are for backing the Norway dialogue,” the European diplomat said, referring to talks in Oslo between the Venezuelan government and opposition that have stalled in recent days.
“All parties feel the need to keep as low key as possible because the mediation is going through a delicate phase,” the diplomat said.
The Stockholm meeting comes as a growing chorus of international actors press for a mediated solution to end Venezuela’s power struggle.
Venezuelan National Assembly President Juan Guaido has channeled the frustrations of angry Venezuelans suffering from food shortages made worse by punishing US oil sanctions, but has been unable to weaken Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s grip on power and sway over the all-power military.
Guaido in brief comments during a tour of the western state of Merida told a crowd that Venezuela’s crisis was being discussed in Stockholm, but offered no details.
“This meeting shows clearly that there’s consensus in the world for new presidential elections,” Guaido said.
However, another European diplomat with knowledge of the talks downplayed any hopes for an immediate breakthrough.
He described the one-off meeting as more of an ice-breaking session aimed at sitting around the same table a number of external actors who can contribute to reconciliation efforts inside Venezuela.
To ease tensions, Guaido or Maduro were intentionally marginalized from the meeting, said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were supposed to be private.
The original aim of the organizers was to court Russia with the understanding that Maduro’s main military and financial backer is key to any solution to the stalemate.
A Venezuelan government source with knowledge of the talks characterized them as a waste of time, saying only low-level diplomats attended.
A spokeswoman for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the talks and said Moscow was being represented by Alexander Shchetinin, head of the ministry’s South America department.
Enrique Iglesias, a veteran Uruguayan diplomat recently appointed as the EU’s special envoy for Venezuela, was also participating in the meeting, according to one of the diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue.
Norway has sponsored two rounds of exploratory talks in recent weeks aimed at bringing the two sides together.
Precious little about the talks has emerged.
However, under pressure from hardliners inside the opposition coalition, Guaido last week said that he would not partake in any more talks with government unless it yields to their demand for presidential elections.
About 50 nations, including the US, consider Venezuela’s presidential election last year illegitimate, in large part because strong opponents of Maduro were banned from running or exiled.
Maduro has stood by the validity of his re-election last year, showing no sign that he intends to go back to campaigning any time soon.
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