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Venezuelan president meets US Senator Corker in Caracas amid rising tensions

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (L) greets US senator Bob Corker during the latter's visit to the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas on May 25, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has met with US Republican Senator Bob Corker in Caracas, days after he was re-elected in a vote Washington said it would not recognize.

“It was a very good meeting, it is good news for the Venezuelan people,” Venezuelan Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez declared in a news briefing in the capital Caracas on Friday.

State television broadcast live images of Maduro greeting and shaking hands in the Miraflores presidential palace with Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Neither side released any statements about their meeting and the content of the talks.

Corker was accompanied by his aide Caleb McCarry, who was reportedly behind back-channel talks with senior Venezuelan authorities earlier this year to win the release of an imprisoned missionary.

American Mormon missionary Joshua Holt has been imprisoned in Venezuela since mid-2016 on weapons charges.

The meeting came two days after Caracas expelled two US diplomats in the country – Charge d’Affires Todd Robinson and his deputy -- accusing them of conspiring to sabotage the country’s presidential vote by pressuring the Washington-backed opposition parties to boycott the election.

In his previous visit to Caracas in 2015, Corker was shunned by Maduro. Following his return to Washington, the senator accused Venezuela of having "flawed economic policies and political system" and putting the Latin American nation on a "destructive path."

Last month, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin also met with Maduro to discuss Holt's release.

A senior Venezuelan official was cited as saying that the Friday's meeting was part of an ongoing dialog that began a few months ago with Corker's office to improve relations between the two countries. 

US President Donald Trump increased sanctions against Venezuela after last week’s election, making it harder for the country to liquidate state assets.

Venezuela's Foreign Ministry released a statement referring to the sanctions as "a crime against humanity."

"Venezuela once again condemns the systematic campaign of aggression and hostility by the US regime to punish the Venezuelan people for exercising their right to vote," read the statement.

“These arbitrary and unilateral measures constitute a crime against humanity," it added.

Maduro’s government further stated that Washington was plotting to sabotage the election through the latest sanctions.

Maduro has accused the US of being behind Venezuela’s economic crisis, saying Washington is orchestrating attempts to topple him as part of a wider offensive against Latin American leaders defying the US hegemony.

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