In a gesture that the Biden administration has relaxed sanctions on major US oil companies, including Venezuela’s assets, senior administration officials have said they intend to support talks between President Nicolas Maduro and US-backed opposition.
Officials said on condition of anonymity that the license was the first in a series of steps toward easing the oil embargo, relying on the cooperation of the Maduro government, to discuss sensitive issues. If the government returns to talks with the opposition to ensure free and fair elections in 2024, the United States could allow Chevron to begin shipping equipment to Venezuela. If the talks succeed, Chevron could be allowed to extract and sell Venezuelan oil.
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The Venezuelan opposition plans to announce on Tuesday that it has reached an agreement with the government to return to talks in Mexico City later this month, according to an opposition leader who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive issues. The Venezuelan government suspended talks in October after handing over close ally Maduro to the United States. This is the fourth time in five years that the opposition has reached an agreement with the regime.
The move this week marks a significant shift in U.S. policy toward authoritarian Maduro as the administration seeks to create a border between Venezuela and its close ally Russia and also tackles higher gas prices this year due to the war in Ukraine. It is followed by a rare trip U.S. officials are due to meet at Maduro’s presidential palace in March to discuss energy sanctions and secure the release of two detained Americans.
Venezuela was once a significant supplier of crude oil to the United States before exports were hampered by mismanagement and sanctions imposed by the governments of Hugo Chavez and Maduro. Washington. Chevron is still one of the few oil companies in Venezuela, but US sanctions have effectively frozen its operations in the country, barred it from investing in increasing production and barred it from dealing directly with the Venezuelan government.
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The move would likely face pushbacks from U.S. lawmakers opposing any deal that appears to be rewarding Maduro, which he saw as illegal after he demanded re-election after being widely accused of rigging the 2018 election. According to a person familiar with the situation, the administration is at least pursuing the plan in stages, bypassing some of those criticisms.
A senior administration official described the first phase as a “narrow license” that would allow Chevron to negotiate the terms of possible future operations in Venezuela. It does not allow access to any agreements or activities involving Venezuelan state-owned oil companies. It is “time limited” so officials can evaluate the next steps “as we move forward.”
“For us, sanctions on the Maduro regime remain in place,” the official said. “We continue to implement and enforce these sanctions.”
The administration is trying to take advantage of a closed window of opportunity in Latin America ahead of the November midterm elections that could bring Republicans to power in Washington. A left-wing shift across Latin America, which could lead to elections in Colombia and Brazil this year, is leaving the United States with fewer allies against Venezuela and Cuba. Colombia’s top presidential candidate, who faces first round of voting next week, has both discussed restoring ties with neighboring Venezuela.
“I think it’s very clear that the Trump administration’s policy of maximum pressure has failed,” said Geoff Ramsay, a Venezuelan analyst at the Washington office in Latin America. “Countries across the hemisphere are looking for ways to respond to the Venezuelan crisis that matches the reality on the ground, with Maduro retaining real control of the region.”
On Monday, the administration announced that it was lifting a number of Trump-era sanctions on Cuba, including a cap on remittances and a ban on flights outside Havana.
The White House is facing a potentially embarrassing situation with the Americas Biden summit to be hosted in Los Angeles next month. Officials say they do not want “undemocratic” countries, including Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, to participate. The presidents of Mexico, Bolivia, Honduras and several Caribbean states have said they will not join if excluded.
Senior administrative officials say the invitation to the rally, which will begin June 6, has not yet been issued and a final decision has not been made.
Sen. Robert Menendez (DN.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, took issue with the move on Cuba and Venezuela.
“Giving Maduro a handful of unsolicited handouts so that his government promises to sit at the negotiating table is a strategy destined to fail,” he said in a statement. “Reconstruction of sanctions should be considered not only in response to cheap talk from the criminal dictatorship of the United States, but also in response to firm action in negotiations.”
US meeting Officials made a trip with Maduro in March without informing Venezuelan opposition leaders, key members of the opposition, regional allies and lawmakers in Washington. Opposition leaders, however, are now seen as supporting the Biden administration’s move to ease sanctions.
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“This is a different moment,” said one opposition leader.
“We do not expect good faith from the dictatorship in any way,” said the opposition leader. “We hope that with the tools we have, we will be able to reach an agreement, to understand the different situation that Maduro and his regime face today.”
A source familiar with the Maduro government’s thinking said Caracas was ready to return to the Mexico City dialogue and had high hopes that Chevron would be able to resume operations, which would then open the door to further deals with US oil interests.
“They now have their Mickey Mouse hats,” the man said. “At the moment, they are very pro-American and ready to talk. They see themselves making a lot more money if they can sell their oil at Corpus Christi instead of the other end of the world. That’s what they want to see. “
Anna Vanessa Herrero of Caracas contributed to this report.