* Government mulls request for DEA agents to return
* Chaderton says serious, cautious efforts being made
* VP Maduro says Chavez entering "new treatment phase"
(Updates with Maduro quotes, paragraphs 8-10)
By Daniel Wallis
CARACAS, Jan 20 Venezuela's government is open
to improving troubled ties with Washington and is considering a
U.S. proposal for the return of anti-drug agents kicked out of
the country eight years ago by President Hugo Chavez, a senior
There has been no word from Chavez since he had cancer
surgery in Cuba five weeks ago, so every move the government
makes in his absence is being picked over for clues to what the
OPEC nation might look like in a post-Chavez era.
Speaking to Telesur, a TV network set up by Chavez to
counter Western media influence, Venezuela's ambassador to the
Organization of American States (OAS), Roy Chaderton, said
U.S.-Venezuela relations were "not hot, not cold. Zero degrees."
But he said there were efforts to find common ground.
"There are things that are being done with a great deal of
seriousness and a lot of caution," Chaderton said late on
"We are not obliged to have bad ties with governments which
have different visions to ours ... I hope pragmatism prevails in
this initiative and we reach a fair place of mutual interest."
Officials say Chavez's condition is improving but delicate
after the 58-year-old suffered complications from his surgery in
Havana on Dec. 11, his fourth operation in just 18 months.
His heir apparent, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, said on
Sunday that Chavez was coming out of the complex post-operative
period and beginning a "new phase" of his treatment. Maduro said
more details would be given in official bulletins.
"We're always optimistic. Sooner rather than later we are
going to have the president here with us," the former bus driver
and union leader told another Venezuelan TV network.
"His mood remains the same as always ... the spirit of
victory, a special wish to see how the fatherland that he has
dedicated all his force to, his whole life, continues to grow."
Many Venezuelans suspect, however, that the socialist's 14
years in power - during which his fiery criticism of the United
States helped turn him into one of the world's most recognizable
and polarizing leaders - may be coming to an end.
In one typically headline-grabbing move, Chavez halted
cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
in 2005 after accusing its agents of spying.
Venezuela, which shares a long, largely unpoliced border
with Colombia, has become a transshipment point for Colombian
cocaine on its way to consumer nations.
Asked about the possible return of DEA agents to Venezuela,
Chaderton confirmed it was being discussed. "It is one of the
many hopes of the United States and it is a proposal," he said.
"Our government will decide, the competent national
authorities, the justice minister, the director of the O.N.A.
(anti-drug agency)," he said. "It is a matter which has to be
studied by the politicians and the experts."
The government says it has invested heavily in fighting
narcotics and points to the extradition to Colombia and the
United States of high profile accused druglords as evidence of
its efforts. It has also taken part in joint operations.
In September, Venezuelan officers captured a top Colombian
trafficker, Daniel "Crazy" Barrera, near the border in a raid
that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said was directed
from Washington by a Colombian general and included the help of
U.S. and British intelligence agencies.
The latest political spat between Washington and Caracas
took place as recently as December, when Venezuelan officials
were furious after President Barack Obama criticized the ailing
Chavez's "authoritarian policies and suppression of dissent."
Venezuela's government called them "despicable comments at
such a delicate moment", and said Obama was responsible for a
major deterioration in relations.
Spurred on by years of Chavez's tirades about the "Yankee
empire", many of his loyal supporters suspect the United States
of being behind a wide range of threats to his self-styled
revolution - including a coup that briefly toppled him in 2002.
Stressing the need for mutual respect, Chaderton made clear
that Venezuela needed no U.S. stamp of approval or card of good
"We are not going to take part in an improvement of
relations at the cost of being 'certified' by those who have no
authority to do so," he said.
(Editing by Andrew Heavens and Sandra Maler)