Venezuela and U.S. negotiate easing economic sanctions

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro REUTERS/Leonardo Fernandez Viloria/File Photo

Venezuela and the United States have made progress in discussions that could lead to easing sanctions on Caracas. This progress involves allowing at least one more foreign oil company to accept Venezuelan crude oil in exchange for debt repayment, contingent upon President Nicolas Maduro restarting negotiations with the opposition.

Diplomats from Caracas and Washington have engaged in multiple meetings in Doha since last year, renewing efforts to address Venezuela’s longstanding political and economic crisis. These discussions have covered a range of topics, including the possibility of a presidential election. Additional talks between envoys representing Maduro’s government and the Venezuelan opposition are anticipated to take place in Mexico in the upcoming weeks.

Washington has been actively encouraging dialogue between Maduro and the political opposition, emphasizing the need for fair elections and other demands. Sanctions were originally imposed after Maduro’s disputed re-election in 2018, which many Western nations deemed illegitimate.

In addition to potential sanctions relief, the agenda for U.S.-Venezuela meetings has encompassed longstanding requests from Venezuela’s opposition to release political prisoners, establish guarantees for elections, and explore solutions to the issue of Venezuelan migrants in the U.S., according to insider sources.

Sources in Washington acknowledge significant progress in recent weeks but caution against prematurely discussing any final agreements, as discussions are ongoing.

It remains unknown whether the U.S. will ease sanctions directly following the resumption of negotiations in Mexico. A White House spokesperson stated that, if Venezuela takes concrete actions toward restoring democracy, leading to free and fair elections, the U.S. are prepared to provide corresponding sanctions relief. However, sanctions remain in effect until further notice.

Once again, Qatar finds itself in the global diplomatic spotlight due to its role in facilitating these talks. Qatar previously hosted extensive negotiations between the U.S. and Iran, resulting in prisoner exchanges and the release of funds.

Last week, the U.S. announced its intention to resume deportations of Venezuelans who illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border, a move aimed at curbing the record influx of migrants. This decision reportedly followed an agreement reached with Maduro’s envoys in Doha.

Earlier this year, U.S. officials drafted a comprehensive proposal to ease sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector. This proposal would permit more companies and countries to import Venezuelan crude oil if the nation takes steps toward free and fair elections. The plan involves revising existing U.S. executive orders or issuing new ones to enable structured and organised imports of Venezuelan oil by buyers in Europe and other regions. If new authorisations are granted, they would offer relief to energy companies that have been attempting for years to receive payment from Venezuela. Over the long term, they could contribute to Venezuela’s goal of doubling its crude oil production.

Easing sanctions has been an incentive previously offered by Washington but has resulted in limited authorisations. Chevron, for example, has been allowed to expand its operations in Venezuela and export oil to the U.S. since November.

An increasing number of energy firms are seeking similar authorisations to recover pending debts in Venezuela and revive oil and gas production. Repsol and Eni received U.S. comfort letters last year, enabling them to resume importing Venezuelan crude oil as part of their debt repayment arrangements.

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