Colombia: Venez accepts terms for political talks

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A banners is posted on the wall of the United Nations offices in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, March 25, 2014. The banners reads in Spanish "UN come to Venezuela now" and the one below reads "European Union pronounce yourself". A large group of protesting anti-government students have camped in front of the office of the United Nations asking it to come and observe the situation, as Venezuela’s bloody political standoff heads into its third month. The decision to pitch tents on the concrete sidewalk along one of Caracas’ busiest, smog-filled streets comes as foreign ministers from several South American nations arrive Tuesday to lend support to President Nicolas Maduro’s efforts at reconciliation with his opponents. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The president of Colombia says Venezuela's socialist administration has accepted the opposition's conditions for dialogue.

The announcement Thursday is the first sign of compromise on the part of President Nicolas Maduro since a protest movement ignited across the country nearly three months ago.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said foreign ministers from three countries, which he did not name, were working out the terms of the talks.

The apparent breakthrough comes after a delegation of foreign ministers from South America spent two days meeting with government officials, students, and human rights groups in Caracas, with the intention of convincing opponents and loyalists to sit down together.

Maduro's administration announced on Thursday morning that it had accepted another of the delegation's suggestions: the formation of an official human rights commission that will report directly to the president and look into allegations of overreach.

The oil-rich nation has been widely criticized for its harsh crackdown on opponents protesting inflation, crime and shortages. Clashes between protesters and loyalists have left at least 32 people dead.

Hours before the announcements, the U.S. State Department issued its strongest response yet to the ongoing crisis, saying it would consider imposing sanctions if the administration doesn't reconcile with opponents. South American diplomats have been at odds with the U.S. over how to handle the country's volatility.

The State Department's top official for Latin America said sanctions could become an "important tool" to pressure Maduro.

"If there is no movement, no possibility of dialogue, if there's no democratic space for the opposition, obviously we have to think about this, and we are thinking about this," Assistant Secretary of State Roberta S. Jacobson told reporters in Washington. She added that the U.S. would work with its partners in the region to impose any such measures as efficiently as possible.

Earlier this month, Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. was considering all options to address human rights concerns in Venezuela, including sanctions being pushed by U.S. lawmakers for weeks. He didn't provide details about what would trigger such a response, and said he was reluctant to damage an already weak economy.

On Thursday, a spokesman for the International Monetary Fund warned Venezuela that it must restore balance to its economy, and offered technical assistance to tame runaway inflation.


Associated Press writer Luis Alonso Lugo reported from Washington.