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Washington, Caracas to restore envoys

In a sign of warmer ties between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and what he calls the US “empire,” the US and Venezuela are to exchange ambassadors expelled in a diplomatic tit-for-tat last year.

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AFP - Venezuela and the United States have decided to exchange ambassadors, ending a diplomatic spat that led to tit-for-tat expulsions of the envoys in September, officials said Wednesday.

The normalization of diplomatic ties "will take place in the coming days, and as soon as the ambassadors have resumed their functions we will move forward to a more fluid communication," Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro told reporters.

He was speaking on the sidelines of a summit here of the regional trade group ALBA led by leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said both sides have been working to restore the ambassadors since US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez discussed the issue in April at a summit in Trinidad and Tobago.

"We are currently taking the necessary measures to accomplish this goal, and we think that exchanging ambassadors is in the best interests of both countries," he said.

At the Trinidad summit, US President Barack Obama shook hands with Chavez, who gave him a book, "The Open Veins of Latin America," by Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano. Since then, Chavez has praised positions Obama has taken.

Although Chavez initially suggested designating Venezuela's ambassador to the Organization of American States, Roy Chaderton, as its ambassador to the United States, a Venezuelan diplomat said it was later decided it would be "simpler to reassign the previous ambassadors."

"It is the quickest formula," the source said, adding that it would avoid the need to gain confirmation of a new ambassador by the US Senate, and other procedural delays.

Kelly, however, would not say whether US Ambassador Patrick Duddy or someone else would return or how long the process might take.

Venezuela expelled Duddy in September 2008 in a gesture of solidarity with Bolivia, which had expelled the US ambassador in La Paz after accusing him of being behind opposition maneuvering against the government of President Evo Morales.

The Venezuelan president also said that when the United States had a new government, Venezuelan would send an ambassador to Washington.

The administration of then president George W. Bush responded by expelling Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez.

Alvarez is currently the president of the Bank of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, a position he would leave to return to Washington.

The Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) was created in 2004 by Cuba and Venezuela to counter the Free Trade Area of the Americas backed by the United States.

Despite the tensions in their diplomatic relations, the United States remains Venezuela's main oil client, buying from it 1.2 million barrels of crude a day.

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