President Barack Obama met with his Venezuelan counterpart, dictator Nicolas Maduro, on Saturday in a closed-door meeting to discuss Washington’s tumultuous relationship with Caracas.
The two leaders met while they were in Panama for the annual Summit of the Americas conference.
Maduro, who rules as the head of a repressive regime in Venezuela, had earlier in the day denounced the United States’ implementation of new sanctions against Venezuelan officials.
In December, President Obama signed a law passed in Congress that imposed sanctions on Venezuelan officials, who were in the midst of a violent crackdown against human rights protesters. Dozens of protesters were killed by the socialist regime’s forces.
In March, U.S. officials declared Venezuela a national security threat, much to the chagrin of Caracas. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at the time of the announcement, “Venezuelan officials past and present who violate the human rights of Venezuelan citizens and engage in acts of public corruption will not be welcome here, and we now have the tools to block their assets and their use of U.S. financial systems.”
But last week, the Obama administration dramatically backtracked regarding the previously held position on Venezuela, when White House advisor Ben Rhodes stated that “the United States does not believe that Venezuela poses some threat to our national security.”
National Security Council Spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said of Mr. Obama’s meeting with Maduro:
President Obama indicated our strong support for a peaceful dialogue between the parties within Venezuela. He reiterated that our interest is not in threatening Venezuela, but in supporting democracy, stability and prosperity in Venezuela and the region.
“It was a serious and sincere encounter. We told the truth and I would say it was cordial,” said Maduro. A Venezuelan official told Reuters that the two men greeted each other in Spanish and engaged in amiable conversation.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Obama met with Raul Castro, the leader of the despotic regime in Cuba. The President is considering the withdrawing Cuba’s status as a of state-sponsor of terrorism, which would allow for the further removal of sanctions against Havana.
In the meeting, Obama pledged to “turn the page and develop a new relationship between” the United States and the regime in Cuba.