Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is calm and has remained fully aware throughout the complications that followed his Dec. 11 cancer surgery, his vice president said Thursday in an exclusive interview with Efe.

"In general terms, I see him very calm, very serene, very conscious of all the phases through which he has passed in the post-operative phase," Nicolas Maduro said.

Chavez, a 58-year-old leftist who won another six-year term in the Oct. 7 election, has undergone four operations as well as chemotherapy and radiation since being diagnosed with cancer in June 2011.

The president is progressing favorably, the Venezuelan government said in the latest bulletin, but continues to battle a respiratory insufficiency caused by a post-operative infection.

Venezuela's Supreme Court ruled last week that Chavez could delay his swearing-in, set for Jan. 10, without creating a constitutional vacuum, and that Maduro may remain in charge during the president's absence.

While officials in Caracas continue to evaluate and re-evaluate possible scenarios, Maduro insisted Thursday that Chavez is still president and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

"Right now if you me ask me here, sitting in this chair, the circumstances we are in are that President Chavez is president of Venezuela, the 2013-2019 has begun and he will continue being president of our country," the vice president said.

Turning to foreign affairs, Maduro said Caracas is ready to improve long-strained ties with the United States.

"President Chavez has given us precise orders, he gave them also to the new foreign minister, our dear comrade Elias Jaua, that we are always disposed to have the best relations with the United States government on the basis of mutual respect and in conditions of relations of equality," Maduro told Efe.

The vice president revealed on Jan. 4 that Venezuela's representative to the Organization of American States, Roy Chaderton, held talks with U.S. diplomats in Washington in late November.

Those conversations were conducted with the express approval of Chavez, Maduro said.

The United States remains oil-rich Venezuela's leading trade partner, but neither country has had an ambassador in the other's capital since the end of 2010. EFE