By Daniel Wallis
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's government is open to improving troubled ties with Washington and is considering a U.S. proposal for the return of anti-drug agents kicked out of the country eight years ago by President Hugo Chavez, a senior official said.
There has been no word from Chavez since he had cancer surgery in Cuba five weeks ago, so every move the government makes in his absence is being picked over for clues to what the OPEC nation might look like in a post-Chavez era.
Speaking to Telesur, a TV network set up by Chavez to counter Western media influence, Venezuela's ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), Roy Chaderton, said U.S.-Venezuela relations were "not hot, not cold. Zero degrees."
But he said there were efforts to find common ground.
"There are things that are being done with a great deal of seriousness and a lot of caution," Chaderton said late on Saturday.
"We are not obliged to have bad ties with governments which have different visions to ours ... I hope pragmatism prevails in this initiative and we reach a fair place of mutual interest."
Officials say Chavez's condition is improving but delicate after the 58-year-old suffered complications from his surgery in Havana on December 11, his fourth operation in just 18 months.
His heir apparent, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, said on Sunday that Chavez was coming out of the complex post-operative period and beginning a "new phase" of his treatment. Maduro said more details would be given in official bulletins.
"We're always optimistic. Sooner rather than later we are going to have the president here with us," the former bus driver and union leader told another Venezuelan TV network.
"His mood remains the same as always ... the spirit of victory, a special wish to see how the fatherland that he has dedicated all his force to, his whole life, continues to grow."
Many Venezuelans suspect, however, that the socialist's 14 years in power - during which his fiery criticism of the United States helped turn him into one of the world's most recognizable and polarizing leaders - may be coming to an end.
In one typically headline-grabbing move, Chavez halted cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 2005 after accusing its agents of spying.
Venezuela, which shares a long, largely unpoliced border with Colombia, has become a transshipment point for Colombian cocaine on its way to consumer nations. Continued...