Pope Francis was willing to play the role of mediator between Venezuela’s embattled government and opposition to help bring an end to the crippling political crisis in the country, the Vatican said Tuesday.

The country has been gripped by an economic crisis since a rapid decline in oil prices in 2014, leading to shortages of food and medicine amid sky-rocketing inflation. The country’s opposition has called for President Nicolas Maduro to face a recall referendum but their efforts have so far been halted by officials.

The Pope had urged the two sides to engage in dialogue last October, only for talks to break down two months later as each side sought to appoint its own members to the national election board.

But the Vatican’s envoy in the capital city of Caracas, Aldo Giordano, said Tuesday that the pope was again willing to put himself forward to help progress the dispute in the majority-Catholic country.

"The pope has expressed his availability, if [the sides] consider it useful" for him to meet with them, he told reporters, reports AFP.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis leads his Wednesday general audience at Paul VI auditorium hall in Vatican City Feb. 8, 2017. Reuters/Tony Gentile

Speaking last week, Maduro, who replaced Hugo Chavez upon the death of the populist socialist leader in 2013, indicated his willingness for cross-party talks at the Vatican.

"A meeting with Pope Francis in the Vatican is being managed, we hope it happens," he said Sunday. "Hopefully it will happen soon and that in that meeting our delegation and the delegation of the right-wing ... will give each other a hug.”

The opposition was thwarted in its efforts to recall Maduro last October when the electoral council suspended the referendum drive after courts in several states reported fraud in the collection of signatures.

Getting the opposition back round the table for talks was set to prove difficult. Earlier this week, it outlined a four-point plan of concessions it would require in order to restart discussions with the government, including a set date for elections and the release of political prisoners.

The latest development came as Venezuela’s Vice-Resident Tareck El Aissami was hit by sanctions from the United States treasury, which described him as a drug “kingpin.”