CARACAS, Venezuela — After months of tensions between the United States and Venezuela, Secretary of State John Kerry met on Wednesday with the Venezuelan foreign minister, Elías Jaua, in Antigua, Guatemala, and announced the start of talks aimed at improving relations between the two countries.
The overture came after another hopeful sign, Venezuela’s release from jail and subsequent expulsion of an American documentary filmmaker who had been accused of seeking to undermine the government. The filmmaker, Tim Tracy, was put on a commercial flight to Miami on Wednesday morning.
“We agreed today, both of us, Venezuela and the United States, that we would like to see our countries find a new way forward, establish a more constructive and positive relationship,” Kerry said after meeting with Jaua on the sideline of a session of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States. U.S. officials said Venezuela had requested the meeting.
Appearing separately, Jaua said, “We have faith and confidence that this meeting marks the start of a relationship of respect.”
The two men were photographed shaking hands in what a senior Obama administration official said appeared to be the first public meeting of top officials from the two countries since President Barack Obama and the Venezuelan president at the time, Hugo Chávez, shook hands in a brief encounter at a regional summit meeting in 2009.
Kerry said the countries had agreed “that there will be an ongoing and continuing dialogue at a high level” between the State Department and the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry.
He expressed hope that the countries could “quickly move to the appointment of ambassadors.” Chávez expelled the American ambassador in 2008, accusing the United States of backing a group of military officers plotting a coup against him. In response, the United States expelled the Venezuelan ambassador.
The two countries quietly began similar talks aimed at improving relations late last year, but they ground to a halt a few weeks after Chávez, a socialist who often made the United States out to be a villain, flew to Cuba in early December for cancer surgery. Chávez died in March. In April, his handpicked successor, Nicolás Maduro, narrowly won an election to replace him.