Blinken talks Lula White House visit, Venezuela with top Brazil diplomat

FILE PHOTO: U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington

By Lisandra Paraguassu

BRASILIA (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Brazil's new Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira on Tuesday and discussed a trip to Washington by newly sworn-in leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

They also talked about Venezuela, ministry sources told Reuters.

At a time when the Biden administration is relaxing some sanctions on Venezuela, the new Brazilian government could become a bridge with Caracas due to Lula's good relations with Venezuelan leaders, they said.

Blinken called Vieira for a 40-minute chat that covered among other issues cooperation on the environment and trade.

"We look forward to continuing the strong partnership between the United States and Brazil on trade, security, sustainable development, innovation and inclusion," Blinken said on Sunday by Twitter, congratulating Lula on his victory.

"Here's to a bright future for our countries -- and the world," he wrote in his message.

The two governments are working on a date for a visit to Washington by Lula, the U.S. State Department said. Brazil's Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

One source said the trip could take place in February.

Lula, who narrowly defeated his far-right predecessor Jair Bolsonaro in an October election, will make his first trip abroad Jan. 23-25 to neighboring Argentina, a traditional first visit by incoming Brazilian presidents. Another trip is planned to Portugal in April.

Contact with the Venezuelan government of President Nicolas Maduro has been discussed with Lula even before his inauguration on Sunday.

In early December, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and President Joe Biden's adviser for Latin America Juan Gonzalez visited Lula and Venezuela was on the agenda.

Sullivan told Lula that there must be an election in Venezuela that Washington can consider "fair" in order to recognize the winner, according to former Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim who attended the meeting.

In November, Washington issued a license allowing U.S. oil major Chevron to expand operations in Venezuela and bring Venezuelan crude to the United States, on the condition of a renewed political dialogue.

Bolsonaro, who left Brazil for Florida 48 hours before Lula took office, broke off diplomatic relations with Maduro and expelled his envoy in Brasilia, recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaido instead.

Lula restored relations and invited Maduro to his inauguration, though the Venezuelan president did not attend.

(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Lisa Shumaker)