Venezuela and the United States have made progress in talks that could provide Caracas sanctions relief by allowing at least one additional foreign oil company to take Venezuelan crude for debt repayment if President Nicolás Maduro resumes talks over Mexico’s opposition, five sources said.
Ambassadors from Caracas and Washington have held several meetings in Doha since last year in a renewed effort to resolve the long-running political and economic crisis in Venezuela, including talks on presidential elections.
Separate talks between Maduro diplomats and Venezuelan protesters are expected to continue in Mexico in the coming weeks, the sources said.
Washington has sought to encourage talks between Maduro and the political opposition over elections and other demands in Venezuela. Sanctions followed Maduro’s 2018 re-election, which many Western countries saw as a sham.
Maurel & Prom, one of state-owned PDVSA’s joint venture partners, is among the companies that could receive a U.S. letter of comfort to repay Venezuelan oil this time, two of the sources said.
A spokeswoman for Maurel & Prom confirmed that the French firm had “submitted a related request to the US authorities,” but declined to elaborate.
The US State Department, the foreign ministries of Venezuela and Qatar, and state-owned PDVSA did not respond to requests for comment.
Reuters could not immediately determine whether U.S. sanctions relief could be returned immediately following a return to talks with Mexico.
“If Venezuela takes concrete steps to restore democracy and lead to free and fair elections, we are prepared to ease sanctions accordingly,” a White House spokesman said last week. “At this time, Venezuela has not yet taken the necessary steps and our sanctions remain in place.”
Sources in Washington confirmed that talks have made significant progress in recent weeks, but cautioned that it may be premature to talk about final agreements as talks are still ongoing.
The talks brought Qatar, an energy and investment powerhouse, back into the spotlight of global diplomacy. Doha has been holding talks between the US and Iran for more than a year, leading to a prisoner exchange and the release of funds.
In addition to possible sanctions relief, the agenda for the U.S.-Venezuela meetings will include a long-standing demand by the Venezuelan opposition for the release of prisoners, guarantees for elections and possible solutions to the entry of Venezuelan migrants into the United States, the sources said. .
Last week, the United States announced that it would re-deport Venezuelans who cross the US-Mexico border illegally. The decision followed an agreement reached with Maduro’s envoys in Doha, two sources said.
More oil for markets
Earlier this year, US officials presented a broad plan to ease sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector, which would allow more companies and countries to import crude if the South American country moves towards independent elections.
The proposal includes redesigning oil embargoes on Venezuela by revising existing US executive orders or issuing new ones so that buyers in Europe and other regions can resume importing Venezuelan oil in a structured, organized manner.
If the new authorizations are granted this time around, it will provide relief to energy companies that have been trying to get cash in Venezuela for years. In the long term, they could contribute to the South American country’s goal of doubling crude oil production.
Easing sanctions has been used as a lure by Washington in the past, but it has resulted in very few concessions. Since November, Chevron has been allowed to expand its operations in Venezuela and export its oil to the United States.
A growing list of energy companies working with PDVSA to settle outstanding debts and restart oil and gas production in Venezuela is in line to receive similar permits.
Repsol and Eni received US letters of support last year, allowing them to resume importing Venezuelan crude oil to pay off their debts.
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