Venezuela opposition says Norway talks must focus on elections

Norway-backed talks between Venezuela's opposition and the government of President Nicolas Maduro must focus on elections, an opposition negotiator said on Monday, as the dialogue proceedings remain stalled after the government walked out.

Adds State Department official's comments, background

CARACAS, Sept 2 (Reuters) - Norway-backed talks between Venezuela's opposition and the government of President Nicolas Maduro must focus on elections, an opposition negotiator said on Monday, as the dialogue proceedings remain stalled after the government walked out.

Maduro's delegation suspended its participation last month to protest a new round of U.S. sanctions, and has not yet established when it will return to the proceedings that are meant to resolve the country's political standoff.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has been recognized by more than 50 countries as the nation's legitimate president, has said the country needs to hold a free and fair vote following Maduro's 2018 re-election that was widely described as rigged.

"It was the regime that walked out abruptly because it did not want to discuss ... what's important for the country, which is holding a free election," said legislator Stalin Gonzalez, a lead opposition negotiator.

Asked when the talks will resume, Gonzalez responded "that question should be asked of the regime, if they're prepared or not to discuss the important issues."

Neither Venezuela's information ministry nor Norway's foreign ministry replied to requests for comment.

Guaido, who is head of the opposition-run National Assembly, in January invoked the constitution to assume a rival interim presidency - though Maduro continues to control state institutions.

Four sources told Reuters last month that Maduro allies during the talks had discussed the possibility of holding a presidential vote in the coming months.

The government delegation had in theory agreed to vote on the condition that the United States lift sanctions, that Maduro run as the Socialist Party candidate, and that it be held in a year, one of the sources said.

Many opposition sympathizers say Maduro uses dialogue proceedings as stalling mechanisms to burnish the international image of the ruling Socialist Party while avoiding any significant changes.

Washington has a similar view of dialogue proceedings under Maduro, according to a senior State Department official.

"We've seen this game before. And the game is: buy time, work on dividing the opposition ... to undermine things by just kicking the can down the road," said the official.

"Our support for the National Assembly and interim President Juan Guaido has never wavered. What we're dealing with here is not an issue of the political right or the political left, but an issue of what is right and what is wrong."

Maduro accuses the opposition and the United States of seeking to overthrow him, and attributes the country's economic collapse to sanctions. His critics say it is the result of failed economic policies.

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(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth and Corina Pons Editing by Nick Zieminski and Richard Chang)

((brian.ellsworth@thomsonreuters.com; 58 212 655 2660; Reuters Messaging: brian.ellsworth.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net, @ReutersVzla))

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