The United States on Monday urged dialogue among Venezuela's parties after the ruling Socialists lost legislative elections, even as a US official denied any intention by Washington to interfere in Venezuelan politics.
US Secretary of State John Kerry issued the call for all parties in the oil-exporting country to discuss how to grapple with its challenges, which include runaway inflation, shortages of basic foods and medicines and a devalued currency.
"Dialogue among all parties in Venezuela is necessary to address the social and economic challenges facing the country, and the United States stands ready to support such a dialogue together with others in the international community," he said.
Given the history of acrimony between the United States and Venezuela under former President Hugo Chavez and his successor President Nicolas Maduro, both frequent critics of Washington, the statement might be taken as a form of US interference.
However, a senior official said the United States was seeking to indicate support for other nations to try to help the Socialists and the victorious coalition find ways to work with one another rather than to insert itself into the process.
The US official suggested nations from the 12-country Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which sent a mission to observe the elections, might be able to play a role.
Asked if the United States was concerned that its support for such a dialogue might be taken as putting its thumb on the scales for the opposition, he replied: "If we said something along the lines that to the victor goes everything, then I might understand (that) concern.
"What we are trying to articulate is that you are going to need a form of coexistence between two camps that have historically reviled each other," the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
According to the official tally, the opposition Democratic Unity coalition had won 99 National Assembly seats to the Socialists' 46, with 22 seats yet to be announced.
The margin of victory meant the opposition can exercise control over the budget, conduct investigations that could embarrass the government, and fire ministers.
If the opposition were to gain a two thirds majority in the 167-member National Assembly, it could exercise more power by shaking up institutions such as the courts and an election board widely viewed by Venezuelans as pro-government.