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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

Go deeper

Supreme Court agrees to hear challenges to Texas abortion law

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear two cases challenging Texas' abortion law, which bans the procedure as soon as six weeks into pregnancy, but left the law in place in the meantime.

Why it matters: The court is moving extraordinarily fast on the Texas cases, compressing into just a few days a process that normally takes months. And that schedule means the court will take up Texas' ban a month before it hears another major abortion case — a challenge to Mississippi's own 2018 ban on abortions after 15 weeks.

Officials warn 5 key tech sectors will determine whether China overtakes U.S.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

U.S. intelligence officials responsible for protecting advanced technologies have narrowed their focus to five key sectors: artificial intelligence, quantum computing, biotechnology, semiconductors and autonomous systems.

Why it matters: China and Russia are employing a variety of legal and illegal methods to undermine and overtake U.S. dominance in these critical industries, officials warned in a new paper. Their success will determine "whether America remains the world’s leading superpower or is eclipsed by strategic competitors."

7 hours ago - Health

Pfizer says COVID vaccine over 90% effective in kids

Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Pfizer and BioNTech said their COVID-19 vaccine was more than 90% effective at protecting children between the ages of 5 and 11 from symptomatic infections from the virus, according to a study posted online by the FDA Friday.

Why it matters: Pfizer is seeking an emergency use authorization to vaccinate children — one of the last groups of Americans still largely ineligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine.

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