The U.S. is sticking to its threat to "reconsider" steps taken in October to ease sanctions on OPEC member Venezuela if President Nicolas Maduro fails to comply with certain commitments by Thursday's deadline, a State Department spokesperson said, APA reports citing Reuters.
The “snapback” of partially lifted U.S. sanctions would mark a major shift from President Joe Biden's new approach toward Venezuela, which was announced in response to Maduro’s government and the country’s opposition agreeing to hold a 2024 election.
The Biden administration reiterated that it has told the Venezuelan government it must, by the end of November, lay out steps for lifting election bans on opposition candidates the spokesperson said. Caracas must also begin releasing Venezuelan political prisoners and "wrongfully detained" Americans, the spokesperson added.
But it was unclear how fast the U.S. might act and how far it could go in retracting sanctions relief, or what minimum Maduro could meet to avert a strong U.S. response.
In the most significant lifting of tough Trump-era sanctions, Washington issued a six-month general license authorizing U.S. transactions with Venezuela’s vital oil and gas sector and a second license authorizing operations of state gold mining company Minerven. It also removed a U.S. prohibition on secondary-market trading of Venezuelan sovereign bonds.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had vowed to "reverse" those steps if Maduro did not provide a timeline and process for reinstating all banned candidates and "begin the release of all wrongfully detained U.S. nationals and Venezuelan political prisoners" by November's close.
"We haven’t seen any progress yet," White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters when asked whether Maduro was meeting his commitments and if the U.S. was prepared to reimpose sanctions. "We'll see what the Venezuelans decide to do."
Echoing Blinken's threat, the State Department spokesperson said: "If Maduro and his representatives fail to follow through on these steps, we will reconsider the steps we have taken to ease some sanctions." But the official offered no specifics.
The Venezuelan government did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Jorge Rodriguez, head of Maduro's delegation in the political dialogue with the opposition, said in mid-November the government "does not accept ultimatums."
If the U.S. deems Maduro's actions insufficient, it faces a decision on whether to reignite tensions with Venezuela when Washington is grappling with major foreign policy crises, principally the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza and Russia's war in Ukraine.
Reflecting skepticism in some quarters about the extent of any new U.S. action, two sources in Washington said the administration may respond initially by just reinstating sanctions on state-run Minerven.
The Venezuelan government may allow appeals from banned politicians to progress in court to partially comply with U.S. demands, sources told Reuters this week.
The winner of the opposition's presidential primary, Maria Corina Machado, is among those barred from office.
The Venezuelan government released five political prisoners in October but there have been no releases since.