WASHINGTON – The United States threatened on Wednesday to impose sanctions on US petroleum firm Chevron, Spain’s Repsol and India’s Reliance conglomerate for their activities linked to Venezuela, although it reserved its harshest warning for Russian state crude oil consortium Rosneft.
“Whether it’s Rosneft, whether it’s Reliance, whether it’s Repsol, whether it’s Chevron here in the United States, I would tread cautiously towards their activities in Venezuela that are in support, directly or indirectly, of the Maduro dictatorship,” said a top US administration official, who requested anonymity, in a telephone press conference.
“We’re halfway through our maximum pressure campaign (of sanctions against those supporting Maduro), and we’re only moving in one direction, and that is forward. And (the) activities (of these companies) are clearly of concern,” the official added.
Regarding the possibility of sanctions against Rosneft, something that has been rumored to be under consideration in Washington for several weeks, the official responded that the option “absolutely … remains on the table.”
“We are indeed concerned about the behavior of Rosneft in Venezuela,” the official said.
Rosneft is one of the Russian corporations that is most active in Venezuela, where it has increased its petroleum activities and has become the key intermediary for Venezuelan crude in the face of the sanctions imposed by Washington on Venezuela’s state-run PDVSA oil company.
Regarding Repsol, the Spanish firm has gradually reduced its exposure in Venezuela, which at the close of the third quarter of 2019 amounted to 351 million euros ($386.1 million), 23 percent less than at the end of 2018, and it is taking Venezuelan crude in payment for accumulated debts, which enables it to avoid violating US sanctions on PDVSA.
Meanwhile, Chevron is the only large US oil company still operating in Venezuela, where it has 8,000 employees, and it is among the only five firms in the sector that has received authorization from the US government – which was renewed in January and expires on April 22 – to do business there.
The official said that the US is “not planning any negotiations with Maduro government, with the Maduro regime” and is only ready to speak with him “to discuss exit and certain guarantees upon his exit” from power.
Trump has given instructions to his administration “to use all of the tools at their disposal to further create and stress upon Maduro and his cronies and in support of democratic efforts of a transition in Venezuela.”
“Our maximum pressure policy is 12 months old. We are, like I said, at best, halfway to achieving maximum pressure. So we have a whole lot to go,” the official said.
“As I said before: In the last 12 months, we have had more success creating stress and isolation on the Maduro regime than had been accomplished in the previous 12 years,” the official added.
The US official spoke with the press shortly before President Donald Trump received Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, recognized by more than 50 nations as the South American country’s interim president, at the White House.
The closed-door meeting, the first for the two men, comes one day after Trump invited Guaido to attend his State of the Union address before Congress and praised him as Venezuela’s “legitimate” president.
Accompanying Guaido to the White House was the man he has designated as his interim foreign relations minister, Julio Borges.
Although reporters and photographers had been given to understand that they would be given access to the Oval Office, at least during the initial portion of the meeting, at the last moment that access was denied, sparking speculation that Trump wanted to avoid having to deal with questions about his pending acquittal in the Senate on the articles of impeachment filed against him by the Democrat-controlled House in December.
Guaido spent Tuesday night in a house in Washington reserved for foreign officials invited to White House meetings and on Wednesday the Venezuelan flag was displayed there amid heavy security measures, EFE determined.
Guaido proclaimed himself Venezuela’s interim president on Jan. 23, 2019, but since the middle of last year Trump has given signs of his frustration at the lack of results in his administration’s strategy to topple Venezuela’s embattled incumbent Nicolas Maduro and replace him with Guaido.