WASHINGTON, Feb. 20 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of State noted Wednesday that it is considering reciprocal action against the Venezuelan government after three U.S. diplomats were declared person non grata and ordered to depart Venezuela.
Speaking from Vienna on Wednesday, State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf addressed the U.S. response to the diplomatic expulsion.
"Well, at this point, we're considering what actions to take. There’s a couple things we can do. One is, in accordance with Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and Article 23 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the U.S. can take reciprocal action ...
"So right now we’re considering what actions to take. They did notify us, as we said, on the afternoon of February 17th that three of our consular officers were given 48 hours to leave the country. I would repeat very strongly that the allegations against our diplomats by the Venezuelan Government are baseless and false, and that right now we are considering what actions to take."
Those actions could, as authorized by the Vienna Convention, permit the U.S. to declare Venezuelan diplomats posted to the U.S. persona non grata and force their departure.
Harf emphasized that while State is "considering a variety of actions," no decision has yet been made.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua accused the U.S. consular officers of conspiring against the government by conducting a visa outreach program to private universities, where the diplomats were supposedly involved in "training, financing and creating youth organizations through which violence is promoted in Venezuela."
The State Department responded to the accusation and PNG notification on Tuesday, calling the Venezuelan government's allegations "baseless and false" and suggested that the government was blaming the U.S. for its internal crisis.
"We have seen many times that the Venezuelan Government tries to distract from its own actions by blaming the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela. These efforts reflect a lack of seriousness on the part of the Venezuelan Government to deal with the grave situation it faces. ... Venezuela’s political future is for the Venezuelan people to decide. We urge Venezuela's government to work to address its people’s grievances forthrightly through real, meaningful dialogue."
Political tensions in Venezuela escalated in mid-February, with three anti-government protesters killed in clashes and an arrest warrant issued for opposition leader Leopold Lopez.