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Venezuela's Maduro regime in secret talks with U.S. on free elections: WSJ

President of Venezuela Nicolás Maduro (R) talks to President of the Constituent Assembly Diosdado Cabello (L)
Diosdado Cabello, who heads Venezuela's National Constituent Assembly, with President Nicolás Maduro. Photo: Getty Images/Getty Images

U.S. officials are in secret talks with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's top aides for him to step down and enable free elections in the country, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. Axios' Jonathan Swan reported Sunday that talks were taking place.

Details: Key Maduro regime figures are trying to negotiate for safety guarantees in order for elections to take place, according to WSJ. Senior Maduro representatives have offered opposition negotiators the possibility of a presidential election in the coming months, WSJ reports.

Why it matters: That offer, made weeks ago during separate talks in Barbados involving top Maduro officials — Communications Minister Jorge Rodríguez and Vice President Delcy Rodríguez — is considered a key breakthrough since the regime has publicly said it wouldn’t be pressured into holding a new vote, according to WSJ.

The big picture: As Swan first reported, the WSJ said alleged drug lord and top Maduro aide Diosdado Cabello has been playing a key role in the talks. He aims to negotiate for U.S. assurances that he and others can remain in politics in Venezuela to take part in elections and not face sanctions if the regime loses power, the WSJ reports.

  • Venezuela and Maduro's regime have been crippled by U.S. sanctions, which President Trump expanded this month to include a total economic embargo.

What they're saying: Trump told reporters Tuesday that officials in his administration were "in touch" with Maduro regime members "at a very high level." "We're talking to various representatives of Venezuela," he said.

  • Maduro said in a televised address Tuesday, translated by the British news outlet The Times, that the talks had taken place for months "with my express and direct permission."

Go deeper: Embargo on Venezuela pits U.S. against China and Russia