After re-election, US holds out possibility of working with Chavez

Monday, December 4th 2006, 6:16 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Bush administration, long at odds with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, greeted the populist leader's landslide re-election victory by holding out the possibility of a more cooperative relationship.

"We look forward to having the opportunity to work with the Venezuelan government on issues of mutual interest," State Department press officer Eric Watnik said Monday.

His brief comment did not offer congratulations to Chavez. Nor did it make direct reference to him or what it regards as the increasingly authoritarian course he has pursued.

Watnik noted that Tom Shannon, who heads the State Department's Latin America bureau, has praised the campaign run by Chavez's main opponent, Manuel Rosales.

"The opposition demonstrated its ability to put forth an important, peaceful and democratic campaign and it garnered a significant share of the vote," Watnik said.

He said reports of irregularities should be investigated.

"We look forward to hearing from the Organization of American States, the European Union and civil society groups that observed the electoral process," Watnik added.

The administration, he said, closely followed reports of intimidation and voter harassment during the campaign, including various instances of irregularities reported by the media.

On Friday, two days before the election, National Intelligence Director John Negroponte outlined U.S. concerns about Chavez in a wide-ranging speech at Harvard.

He said Chavez's "meddling in the domestic affairs of other states in the region _ granting Colombia's FARC insurgents safe haven and other material support, for example _ already has made him a divisive force."

He criticized Venezuela's attitude toward drug trafficking as "permissive," an allegation Venezuelan officials have denied.

Venezuela's growing ties to Iran and other states, such as North Korea, Syria, and Belarus, "clearly demonstrate a desire to build an anti-U.S. coalition that extends well beyond Latin America," Negroponte said.