Envoys from the Venezuelan government and the opposition will hold talks in Norway on resolving the political impasse in the South American country.
Members of the opposition-controlled National Assembly said senior representatives from both sides will be involved in the discussions in Oslo.
The representatives include Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez on the government side and Stalin Gonzalez, a leading member of the National Assembly, on the other, officials said.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido confirmed on Thursday he sent delegates to Norway but denied talks were under way with President Nicolas Maduro‘s government.
“There are some envoys in Norway,” Guido told a political rally in the capital Caracas. He said Oslo “is trying to mediate” in the crisis, however, the opposition won’t enter into any “false negotiation”.
The Venezuelan opposition said Maduro used past negotiations to buy time and was not sincere about making concessions. Maduro said he is open to dialogue and the opposition has been trying to seize power by force.
Guaido said any diplomatic process aimed at resolving the Venezuelan crisis must lead to the end of Maduro’s government, and its replacement by a transitional administration and free-and-fair elections.
Maduro did not directly comment on the talks in televised remarks on Wednesday, but said Rodriguez was on a “very important” mission outside Venezuela.
Norway’s NRK radio and television network, quoting anonymous sources, earlier reported talks had taken place at a secret location in the Norwegian capital for “several days” and the delegations were due to return to Caracas on Thursday.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric was asked on Thursday at UN headquarters in New York about possible UN participation in the process.
He responded he didn’t “want to predict what can happen in what we know is a complicated situation, but what is clear is that the secretary-general’s good offices, the United Nations’ good offices, remain very much available”.
It comes amid reports that the International Contact Group and Lima Group, which both support opposition leader Guaido, may meet.
Dujarric said the UN is “very supportive” of such initiatives.
Venezuela has been rocked by protests since January, when Maduro was sworn in for a second term following a vote boycotted by the opposition.
Tensions escalated when Guaido declared himself acting president days later – a move supported by the United States and many European and Latin American countries.
The opposition has insisted Maduro was illegitimately elected last year and he must step aside to make way for elections. Maduro, in turn, accused the opposition of being “US stooges” intent on illegally seizing power.
The Norway dialogue comes as a mostly European group of nations prepares to send a high-level delegation to Venezuela to propose solutions to the country’s protracted crisis.
The International Contact Group consists of eight European countries, the European Union, and four Latin American countries.
The opposition said Venezuela’s dire economic situation is the result of years of corruption and mismanagement. Maduro blames the country’s problems on US sanctions.
The planned talks seemed likely to dampen speculation that the US, the main backer of the Venezuelan opposition, might be considering military action as a way to end the crisis.
US officials have previously said they are focusing on diplomatic and economic measures to force Maduro out, though Guaido said his Washington envoy will meet the head of the US military’s Southern Command on Monday.
On April 30, Guaido issued a video message in which he appeared alongside a small contingent of uniformed military personnel and armoured vehicles. He called for an uprising to end the “usurpation” of Maduro and has continued to call for mass demonstrations against the Venezuelan president.
The bitter power struggle has left Venezuela in a state of paralysis after years of hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine, forcing millions of Venezuelans to flee.