The Vatican will help mediate talks between Venezuela's president and opposition

Venezuela's foreign minister greets opposition leaders before a meeting in Caracas on April 8 , 2014.</p>

Venezuela's foreign minister greets opposition leaders before a meeting in Caracas on April 8 , 2014.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and opposition coalition representatives agreed Tuesday to hold talks on ending two months of anti-government protests that have left 39 people dead in their oil-rich nation.

The talks, tentatively scheduled to begin Thursday, will be overseen by UNASUR, a regional South American grouping, and the Vatican.

Venezuela's government formally invited Vatican No. 2 Cardinal Pietro Parolin on Wednesday to mediate talks with the opposition in hopes of stemming violence that has killed dozens in the nation's worst unrest in a decade.

In a letter, Maduro's government asked that Parolin, a former envoy to Venezuela who is now the Vatican's Secretary of State, be named a "good faith witness" to a dialogue finally agreed after two months of protests.

A Vatican spokesman confirmed the Roman Catholic Church's willingness to mediate, but gave no more details.

Venezuela's opposition coalition had indicated that current Vatican envoy, Aldo Giordano, would be attending the talks.

Since early February, 39 people have died in clashes between security forces and protesters angered by soaring crime, high inflation and shortages of such basic goods as toilet paper, which they blame on the socialist government led by Maduro.

More than 600 people have been hurt in the unrest.

Maduro held preliminary talks Tuesday with the opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD by its initials in Spanish.

But even as he agreed to talks and said he wanted peace, the populist leftist successor to Hugo Chavez warned there would be no change to his socialist model of government.

"I would be a traitor if I embarked on negotiating the revolution," Maduro said.

The dialogue agreed to would be unprecedented under Maduro, elected last year after Chavez died of cancer.

For the MUD coalition, key issues on the talks' agenda include amnesty for more than 100 people arrested during the protests, and a truth commission to probe the violence that marred them.

MUD is also demanding the dissolution of armed civilian groups known as "colectivos" which it says are close to the government.

For his part Maduro said he wants to crack down on street crime and push investment and economic development in the country, which has the world's largest proven oil reserves but also myriad economic woes.

One wing of MUD, known as Popular Will, says it will not take part in the talks because the government has not released one of its detained leaders, Leopoldo Lopez. It said talks with Maduro would be just for show.

Maduro, the elected heir to long-term leader Chavez, who died in March 2013, has lashed out at the protests, branding them a "fascist" US-backed plot to overthrow his government.

US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed support for the attempts at dialogue, calling the moment "delicate."

"Right now we are very supportive of third party mediation efforts that are aimed to try to end the violence and see if we can get an honest dialogue to address the legitimate grievances of people in Venezuela," he told a congressional committee.