CARACAS -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the United States is "trying to lower the temperature" in its complicated relations with Venezuela, a key U.S. oil supplier.
"But we're trying to lower the temperature. We want to make it clear that there are ways for us to have a conversation with people we don't agree with on many issues," she said in an interview aired Tuesday night on Venezuela's Globovision network, a fierce opponent of President Hugo Chavez.
Caracas and Washington last week returned their ambassadors to each other's capital after expelling the envoys last fall amid an ongoing diplomatic crisis stemming from the different political and economic visions of Chavez's socialist Venezuela and U.S.-style capitalism.
Responding to a question, Clinton said that President Barack Obama's administration wants "to be able to discuss what we view as concerns, and one of them is the legal order for doing business in Venezuela."
"We think that Venezuela, like many countries, can benefit, as we do in our own country, from foreign investment, from people bringing in capital to improve business and the climate for business," she said.
Venezuela is the fifth-largest exporter of crude oil in the world and the fourth most important supplier to the United States, to whom it sells as much as half of the 3 million barrels per day the Andean nation produces.
In the political realm, Clinton said that what the White House hopes to see "over the next months in Venezuela is a recognition that you can be a very strong leader and have very strong opinions without trying to take on too much power and trying to silence all your critics."
"So I think there are ways that the current government in Venezuela could maintain a very strong presence without, in any way, raising questions about the commitment to democracy," the secretary said.
The Globovision interviewer then raised the issue of "a new challenge" in Latin America: "because we have a president elected by their people trying to change their law in order to stay in power."
"Well, as a general principle, I agree that anyone who stays in power for too long, even if they are initially elected in a free and democratic election, runs the risk of taking on too much power. That is not good for a democracy," Clinton replied.
Chavez, first elected in 1998 and since re-elected twice by large majorities, is free to run again as many terms as he wishes thanks to a constitutional amendment approved by voters in a referendum earlier this year.
The United States and Venezuela reestablished full diplomatic relations last week with an agreement for the return of their respective ambassadors to each other's capitals.
Chavez expelled the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela last September in solidarity with Bolivian President Evo Morales' expulsion of Washington's envoy in La Paz, whom he accused of meddling in his country's internal affairs.
The U.S. government responded by booting out the Bolivian and Venezuelan ambassadors in Washington.
Chavez and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton briefly discussed the restoration of full diplomatic relations in April at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.
Under the Bush administration, Washington repeatedly denounced Chavez as a would-be dictator and a destabilizing force in Latin America, while the Venezuelan leader missed few opportunities to denounce U.S. "imperialism."Click here to read the transcript of the interview with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Click here to watch the interview with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton