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Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez took the first step towards thawing tensions between the United States and Venezuela by announcing that Venezuela wants to improve relations between the two countries. "We want to continue to send 1.5 million barrels of oil to the United States on a daily basis and to continue doing business... and together contribute to development and peace in the entire world," Chávez affirmed to journalists in the state of Lara.

Washington and Caracas have been at odds since Hugo Chávez was elected president in 1998 however, relations took a sharp turn for the worse two months ago. In addition to maintaining that the United States had supported a short-lived coup against his government in April, 2002, Chávez accused the Bush administration of planning his assassination.

Meanwhile, Washington has launched its own set of accusations, namely that Chávez is trying to impose his Bolivarian model on other Latin American countries and that he is beefing up his military capacity to start an arms race with Colombia. Additionally, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently referred to the Venezuelan President as a "democratically elected leader who governs in an illiberal way."

The tone of the war of words changed yesterday when Chávez admitted that although, "we have said things, sometimes, very harsh things, it has been in response to aggressions." He explained that, "What I have said is that if it occurs to the United States, or to someone there, to invade us, that they can forget about Venezuelan oil," and clarified that this is just "a theory that we of course do not want, and I hope that the United States does not want it either."

According to Chávez, the majority of people in the United States also would like to see relations between the two countries improve and he hopes that the Bush administration will work in this direction. "Hopefully they do not repeat their fate by saying that Chávez is a threat. I am not a threat. The threat in Latin America is hunger, is misery," the Venezuelan President emphasized.

Chávez considers the recent statements made by the US Secretary of State affirming that Latin America would have to make a greater effort in order to solve problems such as poverty, healthcare, and education to be sound, and hopes that Rice personally visits Venezuela to see the social changes taking place there. "Hopefully, they will visit us so that they see Barrio Adentro, the Bolivarian schools and all of the missions that put us in the vanguard in the efforts to improve living conditions of our population." Chavez added that his government received with "good disposition and in a good form" statements made by Rice in Mexico, in which she recognized Venezuela as a democratic country.

Also yesterday, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister, Alí Rodríguez, met with the US Ambassador to Venezuela, William Brownfield, to discuss the situation between the two countries. According to a Foreign Ministry press release, Rodríguez emphasized that the meeting served to establish "communication and consulting mechanisms aimed at reaching the best possible relations between the two countries."

"We had a cordial exchange about affairs of mutual interest," noted Rodríguez, adding that, "we agreed that there are sensitive aspects that need to be worked on in order to reach the best possible relations, and at the same time, advance together in practical aspects in agreement with the two countries, such as energy and the fight against narco-traffickers and terrorism."