US officials travel to oil-rich Venezuela for talks

TEHRAN, Mar. 06 (MNA) – Amid US efforts to isolate Putin, a delegation from Washington has traveled to Venezuela to create a rift between Moscow and Caracas.

The trip is the highest-level visit by Washington officials to Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, in years, New York Times reported. 

The United States broke off diplomatic relations with Maduro and closed its embassy in Caracas in 2019, after accusing the leader of electoral fraud. The Trump administration then tried to topple Maduro’s government by sanctioning Venezuelan oil exports and the country’s senior officials, and by recognizing the opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, as Venezuela’s lawful president.

According to the New York Times report, Maduro responded to the sanctions by seeking economic and diplomatic help from Russia, as well as from Iran and China.

Russian energy companies and banks have been instrumental in allowing Venezuela to continue exporting oil, the country’s biggest source of foreign currency, despite the sanctions, according to US officials, Venezuelan officials and businessmen.

Russia’s military operation in Ukraine has prompted the United States to pay closer attention to President Vladimir Putin’s allies in Latin America, which Washington believes could become security threats if the standoff with Russia deepens, according to current and former US officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive policy matters.

When the US and its allies began considering sanctions on Russian oil and gas exports this month to punish the country for its operation in Ukraine, prominent voices affiliated with both major American political parties pointed to Venezuela as a potential substitute.

Well-connected Republicans have been involved in talks about restarting the oil trade, including Scott Taylor, a former Republican congressman from Virginia who is working with Robert Stryk, a Washington lobbyist who briefly registered to represent Maduro’s government in 2020 and remains in contact with people around it.

Shortly before the Russian operation in Ukraine, Yuri Borisov, Russia’s deputy prime minister, traveled to Caracas to meet with Maduro’s officials. Maduro has spoken to Putin by telephone at least twice in the past month, according to statements from both governments.

It is unclear how long the US delegation, which includes senior officials from the State Department and the White House, will remain in Caracas or with whom the group will meet. Spokespeople for Maduro and for the State Department and the National Security Council in Washington did not respond to requests for comment.

Before the US imposed sanctions, Venezuela sent most of its oil to the U.S. Gulf Coast, whose refineries were built specifically to process Venezuela’s heavy grades of crude.

ZZ/PR

News Code 184562

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