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Senior lawmaker sees ‘options’ for U.S.-Venezuela relations after visit

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Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker (R-TN) listens to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during Pompeo’s appearance before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing titled “An Update on American Diplomacy to Advance Our National Security Strategy” on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on Tuesday he saw different options for Washington’s strained relationship with Venezuela, after making a rare visit by a top U.S. official to Caracas.

Senator Bob Corker met with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and other Venezuelan officials as well as opposition groups on Sunday and Monday.

“I had a very good meeting with Maduro,” the Republican lawmaker told reporters at the U.S. Senate shortly after returning from the South American nation, whose relations with the United States have been poor for years.

Corker declined to discuss specific outcomes from his visit, although he said he had not discussed sanctions policy. He said he planned to schedule a meeting soon with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the trip.

“We went down to get a sense of a way forward and there’s a couple of options. One option is to keep doing exactly what we’re doing, and there maybe is another option or two,” Corker said.

He also met with members of the Boston Group, a network of U.S. and Venezuelan legislators that has maintained relations between Caracas’ government and opposition since 2000.

The United States imposed new sanctions on Maduro’s wife and several of his top allies two weeks ago as President Donald Trump urged members of the United Nations to support a “restoration of democracy” in the once-booming country, a member of OPEC.

The move added pressure on Maduro’s government, which is widely criticized for economic collapse and undermining democracy. But it did not materially change Washington’s efforts to pressure stalwarts from Venezuela’s Socialist Party who have shown no willingness to hand over power or negotiate a transition.

Maduro has said he is the victim of an “economic war” led by U.S.-backed adversaries. He denies limiting political freedoms, insisting opposition leaders have plotted assassination attempts and sought to overthrow him through violent street protests.

Corker last visited Venezuela in May to secure the release of jailed U.S. citizen Joshua Holt.

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