The United States will ease some sanctions against Venezuela as a means to encourage negotiations between the U.S.-backed opposition and the Venezuelan government led by President Nicolas Maduro, senior administration officials announced Tuesday.
Part of the sanctions relief involved the issuance by the U.S. Treasury Department of a "narrow license" authorizing Chevron Corp., the last major U.S. oil company still operating in Venezuela, to negotiate "potential future activities" in the Latin American country, the officials told reporters during a briefing, speaking on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House.
The officials added that Chevron is not allowed to enter into any agreement with Venezuela's state-owned oil company PDVSA. The officials said "none of these alleviations ... would lead to an increase in revenue" for Maduro's government, adding "there's one other action that will become public" throughout the day.
Noting that the U.S. move was made "at the request" of the opposition led by Juan Guaido, who the United States recognized as the so-called "interim president" of Venezuela, senior administration officials said "the policy framework for us is that we are focused on promoting a viable dialogue that leads to concrete and ambitious outcomes."
"We will alleviate pressure on the basis of those outcomes and in coordination, very closely, with ... the interim government," said the officials, referring to the National Assembly elected in 2015, of which Guaido is the president. "We will re-apply sanctions on the basis of any steps backward or regresses in any sort of negotiations."
Senior administration officials described the move as a "very honed approach ... where the only path that (Maduro's government) has toward the alleviation of sanctions" is to participate in negotiations that will yield "concrete outcomes."
Joe Biden administration officials made a rare trip to Venezuela in March amid skyrocketing oil prices as a result of the conflict in Ukraine and ensuing Western sanctions against Russia.
The trip sparked backlash from some U.S. lawmakers who were critical of Biden's intent to lift sanctions against Venezuela. The White House claimed that the purpose of the trip was to secure the release of U.S. detainees in Venezuela and urge for negotiations between the Maduro government and the opposition, and that importing oil from Venezuela was not discussed during the U.S. officials' visit.
The Maduro government called off negotiation with the opposition last October following the extradition to the United States of Alex Saab, a Venezuelan businessman considered an ally of Maduro.
Indicted by a Florida-based U.S. federal court on money-laundering charges, Saab was flown by a plane belonging to the U.S. Justice Department to Florida from the West African nation of Cape Verde. The Maduro government called the extradition a "kidnapping."