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Caracas: Better ties with Bogota may have to wait

Caracas: Better ties with Bogota may have to wait

Venezuela wants to smooth over rocky relations with Colombia, but a diplomatic breakthrough probably won't be possible until Colombians elect a successor to President Alvaro Uribe, Venezuela's top diplomat said on Sunday.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said "everything appears to indicate that we'll have to wait for Colombia's elections and the arrival of a new head of state in Colombia to truly advance" in efforts to end diplomatic tensions between the South American neighbors.
"We hope relations with clear terms, based on respect, can be established with the new Colombian leader," Maduro said during an interview broadcast by the Televen television channel.
Relations between Chavez and Uribe have been rocky for years, but long-standing friction between the two countries has worsened in recent months over Colombia's agreement to give the U.S. increased access to its military bases _ a deal that Chavez calls a threat to Venezuela.
Colombia, meanwhile, alleges Chavez's government has allowed Colombian rebels to take refuge inside Venezuela. Chavez has repeatedly rejected the allegations.
Uribe's term ends Aug. 7, and Colombia's next presidential election is scheduled for May 30.
There are many viable candidates, including Uribe's defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, and the conservative Colombian president's main leftist nemesis, Sen. Gustavo Petro. Sergio Fajardo, who served as the mayor of Medellin from 2003 to 2007, also plans to make a bid for the presidency.
Latin American and Caribbean leaders belonging to the Group of Rio agreed last month to create a "Group of Friends," led by Dominican President Leonel Fernandez, that will try to calm tensions between Caracas and Bogota.
Maduro's suggestion that the conflict between Colombia and Venezuela won't be resolved until Uribe is replaced could hinder those efforts, however.
Fernandez met with Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez on Saturday, saying he hoped the encounter "will facilitate dialogue with the Venezuelan side, and help re-establish normal relations between the two countries."
Chavez's critics don't believe his government is serious about improving relations with Colombia while Uribe remains in power.
"There's a lack of will on the part of Chavez's government to resolve the problems with Colombia," Fernando Gerbasi, a former Venezuelan ambassador to Colombia, said in a telephone interview. "Chavez isn't interested in the mediation process, it's just talk."
Prospects for better relations will be equally difficult if Santos _ Uribe's close political ally _ is victorious in Colombia's presidential election, Gerbasi said. But opportunities for re-establishing normal diplomatic relations might arise if Petro or Fajardo win the upcoming vote.