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US to withdraw diplomats from Venezuela



By Argus

Petroleumworld 03 12 2019

The last remaining US diplomats will leave Caracas as they have become a "constraint" on US policy, secretary of state Mike Pompeo said.

The decision does not necessarily imply an imminent escalation of US pressure on Venezuela, and in fact removes the one possible pretext Washington could have invoked to justify a military intervention.

The US administration has flirted with possible intervention to enable a political transition in Venezuela, but the option is unpopular both among its Latin American allies and in the US domestic political context. Administration officials recently said the US would not intervene unless its diplomatic personnel in Caracas are threatened.

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro's government quickly claimed victory, saying Pompeo's decision follows an order from Caracas yesterday for the US diplomats to leave Venezuela within 72 hours. The Maduro government will "maintain channels of communication and dialogue with the US Government as long as this process is carried out within the frame of a relationship based upon equality and mutual respect," foreign minister Jorge Arreaza said.

The US in January defied Maduro's order to remove all diplomats from Caracas after Washington recognized Venezuelan National Assembly speaker Juan Guaidó as the country's interim leader. US officials maintained contacts with the Maduro government even as Washington stepped up economic and financial pressure on Caracas to encourage a peaceful transition of power to Guaidó.

But expectations for a quick transition have since faded and Washington is considering its next steps. "We always wish things could go faster," Pompeo said yesterday. Pompeo blasted Cuba for its support of Maduro and condemned Russian state-owned Rosneft for "throwing a lifeline to the regime."

Rosneft continues to buy oil from Venezuelas state-owned PdV despite US sanctions and in fact has stepped up purchases in recent weeks, Pompeo said.

Rosneft in recent years lifted Venezuelan crude in repayment of previous loans to Caracas. It has begun to sell naphtha to PdV to make up for lost US supply after Washington imposed sanctions on 28 January, State Department special Venezuela envoy Elliott Abrams said last week.

Rosneft called Pompeo's statement "groundless and biased" and denied it is skirting US sanctions, which at any rate do not yet restrict non-US buyers from lifting Venezuelan crude.

Pompeo also said Washington is asking another Venezuelan offtaker India "not to be an economic lifeline to the Maduro regime."

Indian state-owned refiners are importing minimal volumes at best from Venezuela but some private-sector refiners are buying shipments, M. M. Kutty, the top civil servant in the Indian oil ministry, said at the IHS-CERAWeek conference in Houston yesterday.

US sanctions are hitting India twice, by imposing constraints on its crude imports from Iran and Venezuela. Pompeo said the US and India are having "good conversations" about limiting Indian imports from those destinations. "In the same way that India has been incredibly supportive of our efforts on Iran, I am confident that they too understand the real threat to the Venezuelan people."

But India still insists on extending its waiver from US sanctions targeting Iran, Kutty said.

Turkey and China notably escaped condemnation from Pompeo, despite their continued support of the Maduro government.

Pompeo instead focused his criticism on Havana, which he says continues to take 50,000 b/d of Venezuelan crude.

Venezuela's opposition-controlled National Assembly yesterday called for an end to that arrangement. White House national security adviser John Bolton, citing the opposition leader´s call, warned of potential US sanctions to providers of maritime and insurance services enabling that trade.

The US House of Representatives nevertheless is fast-tracking a resolution calling on President Donald Trump to ask Congress for approval before the use of force in Venezuela. The House Foreign Affairs Committee is expected to mark up the resolution tomorrow.

Inside Venezuela, living conditions are increasingly grim. Much of the country is still without electricity and water supply following a catastrophic blackout that started on 7 March.



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