Venezuelan ambassador arrives in Washington

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's ambassador returned to Washington on Friday as the nations moved to repair strained diplomatic ties, but the sides are not completely ready to bury the hatchet. Upon arriving in the United States, Chavez's ambassador Bernardo Alvarez called the countries' decision to restore top-level diplomatic envoys the "first step in normalizing relations." US Ambassador Patrick Duddy is expected to arrive in Caracas next week. But late Friday Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said he'd spoken with Thomas Shannon, the top US diplomat for the Americas, to express concern over comments made by Gen. Douglas Fraser, who took the helm of US military operations in Latin American and the Caribbean on Thursday. Fraser had said he was concerned over an apparent military buildup in Venezuela. "I don't see a conventional military threat in the region, so I'm uncertain of why they see a need to build their military to the point that they are pursuing," he said. The Venezuelan government has signed contracts with Russia to purchase more than US$4.4 billion worth of arms since 2005 - including 24 Russian Sukhoi fighter jets and 53 attack helicopters. Venezuela is also planning to buy K-8 flight training and light attack aircraft from China.