Talks taking place in Oslo with representatives of Venezuela's government and opposition to resolve the country's political crisis are in an "exploratory phase," Norway's foreign ministry said on Friday. The representatives of each side arrived in the Nordic country this week, signalling a fresh approach to seek an end to months of tensions that have escalated since a failed uprising last month led by opposition leader Juan Guaido, who called on the military to oust President Nicolas Maduro.
The ruling socialist party, which has long said it is open to dialogue, has endorsed the talks. But many sectors of the opposition remain sceptical, arguing that Maduro has in the past used dialogue as a stalling tactic to maintain his grip on power as living standards steadily declined in the oil-rich nation. "Norway announces that it has had preliminary contacts with representatives of the main political actors of Venezuela, as part of an exploratory phase," the ministry said in a statement, adding that it supported "the search for a peaceful solution for the country."
Venezuela was thrust into a deep power struggle in January when Guaido, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency, arguing Maduro's 2018 re-election was illegitimate. The United States and many European countries have recognized Guaido as the South American country's rightful leader, but nearly four months after their endorsement Maduro retains control of state functions and the support of the top brass, as well as allies like Russia, Cuba and China.
Norway has a tradition of conflict mediation, including assistance with Colombia's 2016 peace deal between the government and FARC rebels. "President Nicolas Maduro and the Bolivarian Revolution express their gratitude to Norway and its support for dialogue seeking peace and sovereignty," Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza wrote on Twitter on Friday.
Guaido was more tepid, tweeting on Thursday that any "mediation initiative" should begin with the "end of the usurpation," a reference to Maduro resigning. He has expressed a growing openness to potential U.S. military intervention to resolve Venezuela's crisis in recent weeks and said his envoy to Washington would meet with the U.S. military's Southern Command next Monday.
Guaido said he would meet diplomats from European and Latin American countries who arrived in Caracas this week as part of the International Contact Group on Venezuela, an initiative which seeks to negotiate an end to the crisis.
(With inputs from agencies.)