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Secretary of State Kerry meets for the first time with firebrand president of Venezuela

Picture released by the Venezuelan presidency showing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (left) talking with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (right) before the peace agreement signing ceremony in Cartegena.
(AFP / Getty Images / Presidencia)

Secretary of State John F. Kerry on Monday held his first meeting with the firebrand president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, whose country is mired in a humanitarian and political crisis.

The two men met on the margins of the signing here of a landmark peace pact ending Colombia’s decades-old civil war.

Maduro, who took office in 2013 and is known for his stern anti-U.S. rhetoric, faces a mounting effort back home to remove him from office amid widespread unrest and severe shortages of food and medicines.

But Kerry said it was worth sitting down to talk with Maduro if it could help ease Venezuela’s plight and the suffering of its people.

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“We are deeply concerned about events in Venezuela,” Kerry told reporters earlier Monday. “We want to be constructive. We are not looking for conflict….”

Kerry and Maduro sat on couches in a large, brightly lighted room in Cartagena’s convention center. They exchanged pleasantries through interpreters before reporters were whisked out of the room.

The United States is Venezuela’s largest trading partner, but diplomatic relations have been tense between the two governments for years.

They maintain diplomatic relations but have not posted ambassadors in their embassies. The Obama administration has imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s military and other individuals for human rights abuses.

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tracy.wilkinson@latimes.com

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