Feb. 5 (UPI) -- A ban on the sale of oil from Venezuela to the United States is something that needs to be considered, the U.S. Secretary of State said.
On a tour of Latin America, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has expressed mounting concerns about the political affairs in Venezuela, a top oil producer. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, widely criticized from Washington for his stance on democracy, is up for re-election this year and Tillerson openly questioned the durability of his leadership.
"If President Maduro would return to the Venezuelan constitution, restore the duly elected assembly, dismantle the illegitimate constituent assembly, and return to free, fair elections, then he's happy to stay and run in a free and fair election," Tillerson said last week. "If he wants to step aside and let someone else follow through on that, that's fine."
Reiterating additional pressures considered at least since last year, the secretary said targeting one of Venezuela's top sources of revenue -- crude oil -- was under consideration still in Washington.
"Obviously, sanctioning the oil or in effect prohibiting the oil to be sold in the United States, or for the United States as well to sell or provide oil to Venezuela, or refined products, is something we continue to consider," he said.
Targeting Venezuelan oil carries risk for the United States. For the week ending Jan. 28, it was the seventh-largest exporter of oil to the United States, behind Nigeria. In 2016, it was the third-largest exporter, though the four-week moving average from late January is down 50 percent from last year.
U.S. President Donald Trump last year considered tightening sanctions on Venezuela, where energy represents about 95 percent of its export economy. That move would've created problems for the United States because, for the refiners concentrated on the U.S. Gulf Coast, Venezuela is one of the largest sources of crude oil, ahead of Saudi Arabia.
Speaking Sunday alongside his U.S. counterpart, Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said his government recognizes few of the political processes in Venezuela as legitimate, but sanctions must be crafted carefully. Any action must be taken to target the Maduro administration, and not the people of Venezuela, he said.
Tillerson added sanctions could cut both ways, including on U.S. business interests.
"Also there are other regional countries that it would affect as well, and we want to be mindful that we're not -- we do not want to harm them with an action we take either," he said in his weekend remarks.