The Joe Biden administration has agreed to ease sanctions on Venezuela, offering to scale back penalties if the government commits to a meeting with opposition leaders. Despite the rare diplomatic outreach, one US official said the economic war launched by President Donald Trump would continue regardless.
Under the proposed deal, Washington will allow US oil giant Chevron to begin talks for future business in Venezuela and remove a former senior energy official from its sanctions blacklist, the Miami Herald and Reuters reported on Tuesday, citing several unnamed officials. In exchange, President Nicolas Maduro would engage the Venezuelan opposition in talks hosted by Mexico.
However, one official made clear that such an agreement would not mean an end to US efforts to strangle Venezuela’s economy, stating that penalties “on the Maduro regime will remain in place.”
“We are not doing this to reverse Trump’s maximum pressure campaign. Our policy, overall, has not changed,” they said.
The offer to Caracas was reportedly decided in consultation with opposition leader Juan Guaido, who’s been recognized as Venezuela’s legitimate “interim president” by the US and dozens of other states since 2019.
Guaido attempted to launch an armed uprising the same year, but failed to inspire mass defections from the security forces and the insurrection quickly fizzled. According to the Washington Post and other outlets, he was involved in another coup attempt in 2020, which was led by an obscure US mercenary firm and ended in spectacular failure.
Earlier this month, the Biden administration reaffirmed US support for Guaido, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken declaring him the rightful leader of Venezuela and vowing to broker talks with Maduro.
A White House official cited by the Herald stressed that any sanctions relief would be limited, and said Chevron would need to seek further approval before beginning projects in Venezuela. Additional sanctions relief will depend on progress in talks with opposition figures in Mexico City.
On Tuesday, Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said she hoped the dialogue would eventually lead to an end to all sanctions, and confirmed that discussions were underway to allow western oil firms to continue operations in the country.
Though Washington is growing desperate to boost the global supply of fossil fuels as it attempts to isolate and cripple the Russian economy, the Biden administration previously denied reports that it discussed additional oil imports with Venezuelan officials during talks in March.
The relatively minor diplomacy with Caracas has drawn fire from both parties in Congress, with Democratic Senator Bob Menendez insisting Biden “must refrain from lifting any additional sanctions until Maduro makes concrete concessions at the negotiating table.”
Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the president was “doubling down on his America-Last energy policies,” and that “Socialist Democrats would rather do business with socialist regimes instead of giving good jobs to American workers. While Americans pay the highest gas prices in history.”
In a statement on the proposed sanctions relief, GOP Senator Marco Rubio also blasted Biden, saying he “continues to appease dictators,” while Senator Ted Cruz similarly said the administration “continues to appease and show weakness to practically every enemy of America,” including the Taliban, Cuba, China, Russia, Iran and Venezuela.