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The United States and Venezuela begin to make nice

An exchange of ambassadors is part of Obama's policy of engagement over confrontation.

By Staff writer / June 27, 2009

Bernardo Alvarez, declared persona non grata by the State Department in September, returns to Washington to resume his duties as ambassador of Venezuela on Friday as part of a new thaw in US-Venezuelan relations.

Nestor Ikeda/AP

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WASHINGTON -- Quietly, and as President Obama inched away from dialogue with Iran, the United States has reestablished full diplomatic ties with another thorn in Washington’s side -- Venezuela.

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Fiery Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s ambassador returned to Washington Friday, while the US ambassador is expected to return to Caracas next week after nearly a year during which the two diplomats were “persona non grata” in their country of assignment.

The mutual return of expelled ambassadors follows a toning down of Mr. Chavez’s anti-American rhetoric. Chavez, who once declared from the podium at the United Nations in New York that President Bush was like the “devil” leaving the scent of sulphur in his wake, now jabs Mr. Obama as being “more socialist than I am” over the “nationalization” of General Motors. At the same time, the US administration has taken steps to put meat on the bones of Obama’s policy of engagement over confrontation.

Obama has made overtures to Cuba, a close Venezuelan ally, easing Bush-era restrictions on Cuban-Americans’ contacts with their homeland and opening the door to Cuba’s return to full membership in the Organization of American States. The State Department has sent its top diplomat for Latin America to Bolivia to try to smooth out differences with the leftist government there.

Obama shook hands with Chavez in April at a summit of Western Hemisphere leaders, and it was also then that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton began exploring with Chavez the prospects for normalized ties. Beyond the Western Hemisphere, the US also reinstated its ambassador to Syria earlier this week.

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