Mar 10, 2022 - World

White House denies it’s discussing oil and sanctions with Maduro

Picture of Nicolas Maduro

Photo: Federico Parra/AFP via Getty Images

The White House claims there is "no dialogue" about oil or sanctions underway with Nicolás Maduro's regime in Venezuela, even as U.S. officials made a rare trip to Caracas on Saturday at a time when the administration is scrambling to increase global oil production.

Driving the news: Maduro released two American hostages this week following the meeting, potentially heralding a thaw in relations. But the reengagement with Maduro has sparked backlash from some lawmakers in Washington, who fear President Biden is about to relax sanctions to get more Venezuelan oil onto the market.

A senior Biden administration official told reporters on Wednesday that the talks had only two objectives: to secure the release of the detainees, and to urge the regime to return to the negotiating table with the Venezuelan opposition.

  • "There is no dialogue between us and the regime.  Dialogue really has to be between the Venezuelan people on the future of the country.  And we’ve made clear that we are ready to lift international pressure on the basis of progress at those talks," the senior administration official said.
  • White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki reiterated Thursday that "there is not currently, at this moment, an active conversation about importing their oil."

Between the lines: The war in Ukraine and Biden's decision to ban oil, gas and coal from Russia are causing gas prices to spike, and forcing the U.S. to reappraise its relations with other controversial oil producers, such as Saudi Arabia.

  • Venezuela's oil production has fallen sharply due to U.S. sanctions and mismanagement of the sector by Maduro, but it is one of the few countries that could significantly ramp up supply.

The other side: The U.S. still recognizes Juan Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela, not Maduro.

  • Guaidó's interim government released a statement on Wednesday thanking the U.S. for its help in trying to restart the negotiations but arguing that sanctions shouldn't be lifted until there are "actual advances towards democracy and Venezuela's freedom."
  • "The easing of any sort of pressure, if it is not oriented towards democratization, will only strengthen the authoritarianism that today threatens the world," the statement said.

Meanwhile, Maduro earlier this week said the meeting with the U.S., which lasted around two hours, was "respectful, cordial and very diplomatic."

  • "We discussed issues of maximum interest for Venezuela and the world," he added, and agreed to "advance an agenda that will allow for the welfare and peace of the countries in our hemisphere."
  • He didn't say exactly what was discussed.
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