Video: Hugo Chavez looms large at summit

updated 4/19/2009 12:31:43 AM ET 2009-04-19T04:31:43

Hugo Chavez said Saturday that he is restoring Venezuela's ambassador in Washington, voicing hopes for a "new era" in U.S. relations after barely getting to know U.S. President Barack Obama at a regional summit.

Venezuela's socialist leader told reporters at the Summit of the Americas that he will propose Roy Chaderton, the South American nation's current ambassador to The Organization of American States, as the new diplomat in Washington.

Chavez expelled the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, Patrick Duddy, in September in solidarity with Bolivian President Evo Morales, who ordered out the top U.S. diplomat in his country for allegedly helping the opposition incite violence.

Washington reciprocated by kicking out both nations' ambassadors.

Chavez's decision on U.S. relations came after a day of interaction with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other diplomats at a hemispheric summit in the twin-island Caribbean republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

The State Department said Chavez had approached Clinton during summit sessions Saturday, and the two discussed returning ambassadors to their posts in Caracas and Washington.

"This is a positive development that will help advance U.S. interests, and the State Department will now work to further this shared goal," State Department spokesman Robert Wood said.

Chavez had stormy relations with the previous U.S. administration and once likened President George W. Bush to the devil. He has warmed to the new American president at this weekend's summit, though Obama had been critical of him for his alleged harboring of and offering finance to Colombian rebels.

On Saturday, Chavez gave Obama a book about foreign exploitation of Latin America and repeated in English during a luncheon speech what he told the U.S. president at their first meeting the night before: "I want to be your friend." Obama exchanged handshakes and pats on the back with the Venezuelan leader.

Chavez said he'd instructed his foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, to begin the process of making Chaderton his new U.S. ambassador.

"He's my candidate," said Chavez. "We have to wait for the United States to give the appropriate acceptance."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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