US welcomes Venezuela's appointment of envoy

The United States voiced hope Wednesday for a "productive" relationship with Venezuela as it welcomed the appointment of a new envoy to Washington by the successor of leftist leader Hugo Chavez.

President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday named ruling lawmaker Calixto Ortega as the charge d'affaires at the embassy in Washington after the United States clarified that it was not seeking sanctions over Venezuela's disputed election.

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Ortega was "known and respected" for work in a group seeking to improve relations between the United States and Venezuela, which have not exchanged full ambassadors since 2010.

"With all bilateral diplomatic relationships, it's important to establish effective channels of communication between governments so we can discuss matters of mutual concern," Ventrell told reporters.

The appointment of Ortega "could be a step in that direction," he said.

"We believe it is important and timely to establish a productive relationship based on mutual interests such as counternarcotics, counterterrorism, the energy relationship," he said.

However, Ventrell repeated US support for a recount of votes in the bitterly fought April 14 election "to ensure that the Venezuelan people feel that their democratic aspirations are being met."

Chavez, who died last month after a long fight with cancer, was a strident critic of the United States and accused Washington of supporting a 2002 coup in which he was briefly overthrown.

But Venezuela, which relies on oil sales for 90 percent of its revenue, nonetheless exports 900,000 barrels a day to the United States.

Maduro briefly threatened to cut off such commerce after a US official was quoted as saying that Washington was open to economic sanctions against Venezuela over its election.

The State Department on Tuesday denied sanctions were under consideration, a statement welcomed by Maduro.