The State Department on Tuesday excused a handshake between top Biden administration climate envoy John Kerry and accused narco-terrorist Nicolas Maduro as an “unplanned interaction.”
Kerry was caught on video briefly meeting Maduro, Venezuela’s former president, at the COP27 U.N. climate meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. The brief but friendly encounter raised eyebrows on social media because Maduro has been charged by the U.S. government with narco-terrorism, conspiracy to import cocaine and possession of deadly weapons.
In 2020, the State Department – which Kerry led under President Obama from 2013 to 2017 – offered a reward of up to $15 million for any information leading to the arrest and capture of Maduro.
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Kerry’s brief meeting appeared friendly and cordial. However, State Department spokesman Ned Price downplayed the encounter by saying Maduro interrupted Kerry during the meeting.
“He briefly spoke to Special Envoy Kerry during COP27,” Price said. “This was not… planned or substantive in any way.”
Price did not offer any insight or updates on whether the U.S. is any closer to securing Maduro’s capture, and stressed the brief meeting with Kerry did not touch on substantive issues.
“As far as that conversation goes, it was unplanned. It was non-substantive as well,” Price said. “[Kerry] was caught by surprise. I understand that Nicolas Maduro has done this to a number of world leaders.”
Rep. Maria Salazar, R-Fla., noted the encounter on Twitter and accused Maduro in a Spanish-language tweet of “desperately seeking support.”
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Price indicated that Kerry, the longtime environmentalist, would have little reason to be friendly with Maduro – not because of his narco-terrorism activity, but because of his poor record on environmental protection.
“Maduro has, unfortunately, as it pertains to COP, overseen a period of significant environmental degradation, the destruction of the Amazon through deforestation, through oil spills and illegal mining,” Price said. “And we believe it’s in the interest of the entire region that such activities come to an end.”
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Maduro rose to power as the leader of the Cartel of the Suns, according to the State Department. That group is a “Venezuelan drug-trafficking organization comprised of high-ranking Venezuelan officials.”
Maduro “gained power in Venezuela in a corrupt and violent narco-terrorism conspiracy with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.”
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The State Department says that anyone with information on the whereabouts of Maduro, whom Kerry met for about 20 seconds in Egypt, should “contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.”
President Biden is scheduled to travel to Egypt – to attend the COP27 – as well as Cambodia and Indonesia at the end of the week
Fox News’ Patrick Ward contributed to this report.