The Biden Administration is looking to ease sanctions on Venezuela in return for receiving direct shipments of oil, according to Biden administration officials who visited Caracas over the weekend to discuss the relationship between Venezuela and the United States as President Biden looks to replace Russian oil.
Lifting the sanctions on Venezuela would permit friendly countries to import and refine Venezuelan oil instead of Russian oil should Venezuelan production increase.
The administration also asked that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro open a dialogue with his political opposition to discuss a path toward democracy, Biden administration officials said.
Two American citizens being held in Venezuela are being returned to the U.S., President Biden announced Tuesday, in one of the first signals that Maduro is willing to work with the U.S.
The U.S. heavily sanctioned Venezuela and its state oil company after sham elections in 2018 when Maduro refused to cede power to opposition leader and presidential candidate Juan Guaidó, instead tightening his grip on control of the Venezuelan state.
The Trump administration recognized the opposition leader as the rightful president and imposed the sanctions in 2019, suspending diplomatic relations and stopping all U.S. imports of Venezuelan oil.
But with gas prices and inflation already climbing in the U.S., some say that for Venezuela to ramp up oil production would take too long. Most foreign drilling operations left the region following the sanctions and would need to reinvest and rebuild facilities there.
The Biden administration announced as early as last November that it would access U.S. oil reserves, with no reference to the Russia-Ukraine crisis, in an effort to lessen the effects of inflation.
Now, some have criticized the administration for not turning first to Canada or even looking to increase domestic U.S. production before looking to Venezuela.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has helped Venezuela work around the U.S. sanctions to get its oil on the market. After the 2019 U.S. sanctions, Russia stepped in and increased its imports of Venezuelan oil, by far the South American nation’s largest export.
Putin and Maduro are strong political allies. As recently as January, Maduro was reportedly open to hosting Russian troops to put pressure on the U.S. in the Western hemisphere.
The Kremlin announced last week that Putin and Maduro were continuing to discuss their strategic partnership over the phone.
President Biden has also looked to the Persian Gulf nations of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to meet the deficit caused by the Russia sanctions. But the president has been snubbed by the countries’ monarchs, whose have requests of the U.S. involving input in the Iran nuclear
deal and a desire for support against the Iran-backed Houthis which are attacking them and their oil operations.