US top diplomat Antony Blinken on March 2 spoke with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, whom Washington recognises as interim president, and proposed working with allies to increase “multilateral pressure” against leftist leader Nicolas Maduro.

State department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement: “Secretary of State Antony J Blinken spoke with Venezuelan Interim President Juan Guaido today. Secretary Blinken stressed the importance of a return to democracy in Venezuela through free and fair elections.”

The two spoke via video call.

Blinken called for “efforts to work with likeminded allies” such as the EU, the Organisation of American States and initiatives such as the Lima Group to “increase multilateral pressure” for a “peaceful, democratic transition” in the South American country, the statement said.

Maduro, whose 2018 re-election has been deemed fraudulent by the White House, said after President Joe Biden’s inauguration that he wanted to forge a “new path” with the US.

Relations between Washington and Caracas were tense under former president Donald Trump, who imposed crippling sanctions on Venezuela and its state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) in an effort to force socialist Maduro from power.

Venezuela’s economic crisis has caused more than five million people to flee the country.

Blinken “committed to continued US support” in his call with Guaido, Price’s statement said.

Guaido, according to a statement from his office, told Blinken he was committed to the US and other allies in seeking political solutions while increasing humanitarian assistance to Venezuela.

The statement said: “They agreed to work with the international community to achieve free, fair and transparent presidential and parliamentary elections.”

Before taking office in January, Blinken called Maduro a “dictator” and said he would continue Trump’s policy of recognising Guaido as the interim president.

Guaido declared himself Venezuela’s leader in 2019, rooting his legitimacy in his role as speaker of the opposition-led National Assembly. His claim has been recognised by more than 50 countries, including the US.

Control of the legislative body has since been won by Maduro’s forces in December 2020 elections internationally considered rigged.

The US state department also praised El Salvador on March 2 for holding “successful” legislative and municipal elections. Parties allied with President Nayib Bukele were victorious.

Washington called on “all parties to work together to resolve any remaining concerns about this election peacefully”, Price said in a statement.