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U.S., Venezuela discuss easing of sanctions, make little progress -sources -Breaking


© Reuters. FILEPHOTO: A flock of birds fly in front of a Venezuelan flag, Caracas, Venezuela 12 January 2021. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero

By Marianna Parraga, Vivian Sequera, Matt Spetalnick and Diego Oré

CARACAS/WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – The U.S. discussed Venezuela’s oil sanctions but did not reach a compromise in the first bilateral high-level talks since years. Five sources close to the matter claim that the US seeks to seperate Russia from its most important allies.

The meeting took place in Caracas on Saturday between both sides. One source described it as “maximalist” and reflected longstanding tensions between one of the most powerful countries of the Western Hemisphere and another of its greatest ideological foes.

According to sources, a U.S. delegation, led by Juan Gonzalez, the White House’s top Latin America advisor, met with Ambassador James Story and socialist President Nicolas Maduro at Miraflores palace. Also, Delcy Rodriguez was his vice president, according to the source.

According to a Washington source, U.S. officials viewed the meeting as an opportunity to determine if Venezuela, Russia’s nearest Latin American ally, was ready to distance itself against President Vladimir Putin in response to his invasion of Ukraine.

Washington is also keen to find alternative sources of oil to make up the shortfall if it wants to boycott Moscow’s energy sector. Washington could allow Venezuela to increase crude oil exports by lifting sanctions.

The White House and the U.S. State Department declined to comment, as did Venezuela’s Information ministry.

Maduro was encouraged by the U.S.’s willingness to engage after many years of shunning such contacts.

As Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine has left Venezuela without a financial backbone, sanctions placed on Moscow have caused Venezuela’s finances to become increasingly vulnerable. Caracas used this meeting to demand U.S. sanction relief.

Russia has been asked by Venezuela to release oil proceeds in several Russian banks that have been blacklisted recently by the United States. These include the Promsvyazbank(PSB), which Venezuela’s state-run oil firm PDVSA and Defense Ministry own bank accounts.

As part of U.S. sanctions against Venezuela in 2019, another bank used to trade with Russia, Evrofinance Mosnarbank was also blacklisted. This forced PDVSA’s collecting accounts to be moved to other banks.

Three people who were familiar with the situation said that Washington demanded guarantees for free elections and broad reforms to Venezuela’s oil sector in order to allow foreign companies production and exports. Also, the government should condemn Maduro’s defense of his invasion of Ukraine.

According to one source, U.S. officials offered to allow Venezuela temporarily to access the SWIFT system. This facilitates financial transactions among banks all over the globe and allows money to transfer to other accounts.

Sources said that Maduro wanted a complete lifting of all sanctions against Venezuela, as well as the elimination of any sanctions on him or other Venezuelan officials, and the restoration of state control over Citgo Petroleum’s U.S. subsidiary, PDVSA.

Companies including the U.S. could be allowed to lift oil sanctions. Chevron Corp (NYSE:), India’s ONGC and Europeans Eni, Repsol (OTC:) and Maurel & Prom to trade cargoes of Venezuelan oil. These companies have submitted separate requests to Biden’s Administration, but there have not been any decisions.

Are you anxious for SANCTIONS RELEEF?

According to two sources, even if Washington refuses to comply with Maduro’s demands he can use the U.S. Meeting to force Russia to let Venezuelan cash flow freely.

Maduro desires sanctions relief. He isn’t interested in changing alliances. It is tactical,” Eric Farnsworth (head of the Washington office of the Council of the Americas) said Saturday on Twitter. “The (U.S.) must not be naive about this.

Maduro’s government requested the Caracas meeting through Dentons multinational law firm, which was previously used for debt negotiation by two other sources.

Dentons representatives in Caracas didn’t immediately respond to our request for comment.

Sources said that the U.S. officials had agreed to meet again, but there was no set date.

Only Saturday morning, Juan Guaido’s aides were notified of the meeting. The United States recognized Guaido, along with dozens of countries around the world as Venezuela’s rightful ruler after dismissing Maduro’s 2018 election as fraudulent. But several other countries have since dropped this recognition.

The U.S. officials reiterated the demand that six Citgo former executives be released from Venezuela, as well as other U.S. citizens, however, they did not offer any form of exchange involving Alex Saab (a key Maduro ally who is currently in detention in the United States), which was a crucial demand of Maduro for talks with the opposition.