US envoys held energy talks with Venezuela's Maduro: W.House
The White House said Monday that a US delegation held weekend talks in Venezuela with the government of President Nicolas Maduro that included a discussion of energy supplies -- as Washington looks for ways to reduce its imports of Russian oil.
Venezuela's opposition also said it had met with the high-level US delegation, whose trip to Caracas -- reported by multiple US media -- came as Washington seeks to isolate Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
Maduro, with whose regime the United States broke off relations in 2019, has been among the few international figures to assure Russian President Vladimir Putin of his "strong support" in the wake of the invasion.
"As it relates to Venezuela, the purpose of the trip that was taken by administration officials was to discuss a range of issues including certainly energy, energy security," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.
The United States has imposed a battery of sanctions on Caracas in a bid to force Maduro from power, with one 2019 measure preventing Venezuela from trading its crude oil -- which accounted for 96 percent of the country's revenues -- on the US market.
According to The New York Times, the visit by senior State Department and White House officials was linked to Washington's alleged interest in replacing part of the oil it currently buys from Russia with the oil it stopped buying from Venezuela.
The White House has indicated it is examining how to reduce Russian oil imports without harming US consumers and while maintaining global supply -- although Psaki said Monday no decision had been made on a possible ban on Russian oil.
Since breaking off diplomatic relations with Caracas, Washington has refused to deal with the Maduro government, instead treating opposition leader Juan Guaido as the South American country's legitimate president.
Psaki said the delegation also raised the "health and welfare" of a number of Americans detained in the country -- who include six oil executives jailed in 2017 -- but stressed that energy talks and the detainees' fate were "separate paths and conversations."
Venezuela's communications ministry declined to comment on news of the US trip.
Guaido's office said, meanwhile, that the opposition held a "sustained meeting" with the US delegation.
The United States is one of almost 60 countries to have recognized Guaido as Venezuela's acting president, having rejected Maduro's 2018 reelection in a poll widely viewed as fraudulent.
Washington signaled last month it would be willing to review its sanctions policy toward Venezuela if talks between Maduro's government and the opposition -- launched in August but suspended since October -- moved forward.
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