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Pope could mediate in Venezuela if both parties agree

Pope Francis on Tuesday said he is ready to mediate to open dialogue in Venezuela if both parties seek it.

Speaking to reporters en route from the United Arab Emirates, where he paid a brief visit, Pope said that he had not read yet a letter sent to him by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro seeking the pontiff’s help in opening up dialogue.

For mediation to occur, both parties must ask for it, said Francis, referring to Maduro and Juan Guaido, head of the opposition-led National Assembly, who last month declared himself Venezuela’s interim president.

Maduro on Monday said he sent Francis a letter seeking his help in fostering dialogue in Venezuela.

The country is about 70 percent Catholic.

Venezuela has been rocked by protests since Jan. 10, when Maduro was sworn in for a second term following a vote boycotted by the opposition.

Tensions climbed on Jan. 23 when Guaido declared himself interim president, but Maduro has so far refused calls to step down.

He has accused the U.S. of orchestrating a coup against his government and said he is open to dialogue with the opposition.

The U.S. has led an international campaign to apply economic and diplomatic pressure on Maduro, including sanctioning the country’s state-owned oil company and a joint venture with its Nicaraguan counterpart.

Russia, China, and Iran have put their weight behind Maduro, as has Turkey.

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