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Biden, Venezuelan leader talk relations

| Friday, Jan. 2, 2015, 9:48 p.m.
In this photo provided by Miraflores presidential press office, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, right, speaks with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the swearing-in ceremony of Brazil's reelected President Dilma Rousseff in Brasilia, Brazil, Jan. 1, 2015. The meeting came two weeks after President Barack Obama signed legislation to impose sanctions on Venezuelan officials accused of violating human rights. Last week, Maduro accused the U.S. of waging a war to destroy the South American country’s socialist revolution. (AP Photo/Miguel Angulo, Miraflores Presidential Office)
In this photo provided by Miraflores presidential press office, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, right, speaks with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the swearing-in ceremony of Brazil's reelected President Dilma Rousseff in Brasilia, Brazil, Jan. 1, 2015. The meeting came two weeks after President Barack Obama signed legislation to impose sanctions on Venezuelan officials accused of violating human rights. Last week, Maduro accused the U.S. of waging a war to destroy the South American country’s socialist revolution. (AP Photo/Miguel Angulo, Miraflores Presidential Office)

CARACAS — There's been a rapid deterioration of relations between their countries, but on New Year's Day, Vice President Joe Biden and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro shook hands and expressed their desire for restored ties.

The brief, impromptu meeting in Brazil occurred two weeks after President Obama signed legislation to impose sanctions on Venezuelan officials accused of violating human rights.

A photograph of Biden and Maduro smiling warmly at each other at the swearing in of Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff immediately became an Internet meme, with Venezuelans inventing and adding their own thought bubbles.

According to an American administration official traveling with the vice president, Maduro told Biden he wants to improve U.S.-Venezuela ties, but he is concerned about the sanctions. The official insisted on not being quoted by name.

Biden said that one step Venezuela could take toward improving relations would be to release political prisoners, but Maduro responded that the opposition was destabilizing the country and sanctions would do the same, the official said.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Maduro described the meeting with Biden as “cordial.”

The State Department provided no immediate comment on the meeting.

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