Maduro, Kerry meet in Colombia after peace deal signing

CARTAGENA, Colombia (UPDATED) – Venezuela's embattled President Nicolas Maduro met Monday, September 26, with top US diplomat John Kerry on the sidelines of a landmark peace deal signing between the Colombian government and FARC rebels.

"President @NicolasMaduro held respectful, top level meeting with @JohnKerry," Venezuela's Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez tweeted.

Venezuela is in a highly tense political crisis, with the South American oil-exporting nation slammed by low crude prices, inflation, food shortages and violence.

If Maduro loses a recall vote expected after January 10 – 4 years into his six-year term – he would be replaced by his hand-picked vice president.

Polls indicate eight in 10 Venezuelans want a change in government.

Kerry "spoke of our concern about the economic and political challenges that have affected millions of Venezuelans, and he urged President Maduro to work constructively with opposition leaders to address these challenges," US State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

"Secretary Kerry stressed our support for democratic solutions reached through dialogue and compromise," he said, adding that the two agreed to continue bilateral discussions begun in recent months.

Venezuela's opposition Monday urged its supporters to join a mass demonstration on October 12 against government moves to avoid the recall referendum.

The center-right-dominated Democratic Unity Roundtable has rejected the authorities' ruling that a recall vote on forcing Maduro from power cannot be held before next year.

Violence erupted in 2014 at rival pro- and anti-government demonstrations, leaving 43 people dead.

Washington and Caracas have had tense bilateral ties for years.

The Maduro-Kerry encounter in Cartagena, which diplomatic sources said was brief, took place on the sidelines of the historic peace deal signing in this Colombian resort city on the Caribbean coast.

The four-year peace process ended Colombia's civil strife, the last major armed conflict in the Americas. The accord remains to be ratified by referendum in a week.

Colombian authorities estimate the territorial and ideological conflict has killed 260,000 people, left 45,000 missing and uprooted 6.9 million. –