Venezuela's Maduro meets U.S. senator after election, sanctions

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro met with U.S. Senator Bob Corker on Friday, the socialist-led government said, less than a week after Maduro was re-elected to a six-year term in a vote the United States did not recognize.

The election prompted a further deterioration in relations between the two countries. The United States responded to the vote, which it called undemocratic, with additional sanctions, prompting Venezuela to expel the top two U.S. diplomats posted in Caracas. The United States responded with a similar move.

“It was a very good meeting, it is good news for the Venezuelan people,” Venezuelan Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez told reporters, without providing details of what the officials discussed.

State television images showed Maduro and Corker, a Tennessee Republican and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, shaking hands in the Miraflores presidential palace, though neither offered statements to the media.

U.S. lawmakers have previously held discussions with Venezuelan officials on the release of Josh Holt, a U.S. citizen and Mormon missionary from Utah imprisoned in the South American country since 2016 on weapons charges. U.S. officials say Venezuela is using Holt as a bargaining chip in sanctions talks

Venezuela’s economy is experiencing a fifth year of contraction, with hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicines prompting mass emigration. The United States has sanctioned individuals linked to Maduro in recent months, accusing them of corruption.

Maduro frequently accuses Washington of conspiring to overthrow his government and seize control of the OPEC member’s oil reserves, the largest in the world, and has said the United States’ “economic war” is to blame for the country’s woes.

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