Official: Biden exploring mediation for Venezuela

LUIS ANDRES HENAO
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Vice President Joe Biden speaks at La Moneda Palace in Santiago, Chile, Monday, March 10, 2014. Biden is in Chile to attend Tuesday's swearing-in of Michelle Bachelet as Chile's president. (AP Photo/Luis Hidalgo)

VALPARAISO, Chile (AP) — US Vice President Joe Biden has been discussing the "difficult situation" in Venezuela with other Latin American leaders attending Chile's presidential inauguration on Tuesday, possibly including mediation by a third country, according to a senior U.S. administration official.

The official, who was not authorized to speak to reporters on the record, said Biden told the leaders that democracy is more than just holding elections — that human rights, including the right to protest, also must be respected.

The official said Biden told them he stood by remarks this week to Chile's El Mercurio newspaper in which he suggested Venezuela's government is using "armed vigilantes" against peaceful protesters and accused it of "concocting false and outlandish conspiracy theories" of U.S. involvement in the demonstrations.

The official said that Biden is focused on practical steps to reach a resolution in Venezuela, and the possibility of mediation by a third country that he did not name.

Venezuelan officials have repeatedly rejected the idea of having another country mediate in their dispute with domestic protesters. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro described Biden's remarks to El Mercurio as "aggression" on the part of a country he accuses of backing opponents trying to undermine "a solid democracy that has had the popular backing in 18 elections over 15 years."

He cancelled plans to attend the Chilean inauguration, sending Foreign Minister Elias Jaua instead.

Argentine foreign minister Hector Timerman said Tuesday that fellow ministers from the UNASUR block of South American governments will meet Wednesday in Chile to hear what Jaura has to say and take action to support Venezuela's government from forces he has labeled "coup plotters."

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Associated Press Writer Michael Warren in Buenos Aires contributed to this story.