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U.S. to ease sanctions on Venezuela, allow negotiations with oil companies

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U.S. to ease sanctions on Venezuela, allow negotiations with oil companies
The United States will ease some sanctions against Venezuela, allowing U.S. and European oil companies to negotiate to resume services in the South American country. File Photo by GMEVIPHOTO/Shutterstock

May 17 (UPI) -- The Biden administration plans to ease some sanctions against Venezuela in efforts to combat rising oil prices and facilitate dialogue between President Nicolas Maduro and the U.S.-backed opposition.

In easing the sanctions, the United States will grant Chevron a "narrow" license to negotiate a potential resumption of services with Venezuela's state-owned oil company, PDVSA, NBC News, The Washington Post and Bloomberg reported Tuesday, citing senior administration officials.

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The United States has also allowed European companies still operating in Venezuela, including Italy's Eni SpA and Spain's Repsol SA, to divert Venezuelan oil bound for China to Europe.

Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez confirmed in a tweet Tuesday the United States has agreed to allow U.S. and European oil companies to negotiate and restart operations in the country.

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"Venezuela hopes that these decisions of the United States of America pave the way for the absolute lifting of the illegal sanctions that affect all of our people," she added in another tweet.

The license granted to Chevron is the first in a potential series of steps leading to relief from oil sanctions, with one official telling The Washington Post that the United States could permit Chevron to begin shipping equipment to Venezuela if Maduro's government returns to negotiations with the opposition aimed at ensuring free and fair elections in 2024.

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The official added that if those talks are successful, Chevron could be allowed to extract and sell Venezuelan oil.

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An official told NBC News that the measures are being taken at the "request of the Venezuelan interim government and the 'Unity' platform of opposition parties" and that the United States would still seek to hold "any actor that engages in corruption, violates U.S. laws, and abuses of human rights accountable."

"We are going to calibrate our sanctions policy accordingly, to increase pressure or alleviate pressure on the basis of ambitious, concrete and irreversible outcomes that empower the Venezuelan people to determine the future in their country through democratic elections," the official said.

In March, U.S. officials traveled to Venezuela's presidential palace to talk about energy sanctions amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine and to secure the release of two U.S. citizens who had been jailed in the South American country.

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The planned loosening of sanctions also comes after the Biden administration on Monday announced it will allow flights to more Cuban cities and reinstate a family reunification program suspended by former President Donald Trump.

Senate foreign relations committee Chairman Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., has spoken out against both policy decisions.

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"Giving Maduro a handful of undeserved handouts just so his regime will promise to sit down at a negotiating table is a strategy destined to fail," he said. "The United States should only consider recalibrating sanctions in response to concrete steps in negotiations, not simply in response to cheap talk from a criminal dictator."

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