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story.lead_photo.caption Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, center, and first lady Cilia Flores, wave to supporters as they leave the National Pantheon after attending a ceremony to commemorate an 1800's independence battle, in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. Sweeping new U.S. sanctions freeze all of the Maduro government's assets in the U.S. and even threaten to punish companies from third countries that keep doing business with his socialist administration. The first couple is accompanied by Defense Minister Gen. Padrino Lopez. (AP Photo/Leonardo Fernandez)

CARACAS, Venezuela -- The chief facilitator of negotiations between Venezuela's socialist administration and opposition has downplayed the decision by President Nicolas Maduro to skip a scheduled round of talks.

Dag Nylander of Norway's Foreign Affairs Ministry said Thursday that he's in contact with both sides about finding a date for talks to resume.

Maduro said late Wednesday that his government was pulling out of talks with the opposition two days after the United States imposed a Cuba-style embargo on the crisis-ridden South American nation.

"The people have asked me why I'm in a dialogue with people who have tried to assassinate, overthrow and fill the country with violence, but we have still done it," Maduro said in a televised phone interview.

"In this case, we cannot sit down with people who celebrate this criminal economic blockade that the U.S. has imposed on us." He called instead for a march on Saturday to reject the embargo.

The latest round of talks, the sixth in a series of conversations being mediated by Norway since May, were scheduled for Thursday and today in Barbados. The opposition delegation, sent by National Assembly President Juan Guaido, was already on the Caribbean island, leaders confirmed.

"We are in Barbados to seek an agreement that ends Venezuelans' suffering," Stalin Gonzalez, who has represented the opposition in the talks, wrote in a tweet. The government has "spent days saying that they believe in peace and the Oslo mechanism but they fear the possibility of a real political change in the country."

President Donald Trump announced the embargo Monday after months of escalating sanctions on government officials and institutions in this collapsing oil nation, devastated by more than a decade of economic mismanagement. More than 4 million people have fled after facing hyperinflation, power failures and shortages of food, water and medicine.

In announcing the move, national security adviser John Bolton said the dialogue between the government and opposition was being used by Maduro to buy time.

"We will not fall for these old tricks of a tired dictator," Bolton said Tuesday at a meeting in Peru of more than 50 governments aligned against Maduro. "No more time for tap, tap, tapping. Now is the time for action."

But some believe Bolton's admonishments might end up strengthening the negotiations, which have been taking place since May.

The United Nations on Thursday reiterated U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' "strong support" for Norway's mediation effort.

"Our position is unchanged -- that only a settlement through negotiations will solve this ongoing situation," spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Meanwhile, the U.N.'s top human-rights official criticized the U.S.' response as overhanded and bound to intensify suffering in the country.

Michelle Bachelet, Chile's former president, who sharply criticized Maduro's human-rights record after a visit to the country in June, said that provision in the new sanctions allowing for the shipment of food and medicine are unlikely to suffice.

"They are still likely to significantly exacerbate the crisis for millions of ordinary Venezuelans, especially as there will certainly be over-compliance by financial institutions around the world that have commercial relations with the governments of the U.S. and Venezuela," she said.

Information for this article was contributed by Edith M. Lederer, Jamey Keaten and staff members of The Associated Press; and by Rachelle Krygier of The Washington Post.

A Section on 08/09/2019

Print Headline: Envoy still hopeful on Venezuela talks

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