The Biden administration has eased restrictions on the main U.S. oil company with assets in Venezuela in a gesture that senior administration officials said was intended to support talks between the government of President Nicolás Maduro and the U.S.-backed opposition, The Washington Post reports.
The Treasury Department on Tuesday issued a “narrow” license to Chevron that will allow the company to begin previously prohibited talks with Venezuela’s socialist government over a possible restart of production that had ceased under U.S. sanctions, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity under rules imposed by the White House.
The license is the first in what could be a series of steps toward oil sanctions relief, depending on the Maduro government’s cooperation, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters. If the government returns to negotiations with the opposition, aimed at guaranteeing free and fair elections in 2024, the United States could permit Chevron to begin shipping equipment to Venezuela. If the talks are successful, Chevron could be allowed to extract and sell Venezuelan oil.
Opposition leaders on Tuesday night announced that they have begun “formal talks” with the Venezuelan government in order to return to the negotiation process in Mexico.
The Venezuelan government suspended talks in October after the extradition of a close Maduro ally to the United States. It was the fourth time in five years that the opposition had sought a deal with the regime.
Chevron did not respond to requests for comment.
The move is a notable shift in U.S. policy toward the authoritarian Maduro as the administration tries to drive a wedge between Venezuela and its close ally Russia, while also addressing soaring gas prices sent higher this year by the war in Ukraine. It follows a rare trip by U.S. officials to Maduro’s presidential palace in March to discuss energy sanctions and secure the release of two detained Americans.
Venezuela was once a significant supplier of crude to the United States before exports were hobbled by mismanagement under the governments of Hugo Chávez and Maduro and crippling sanctions imposed by Washington. Chevron is one of the few oil companies still in Venezuela, but U.S. restrictions have effectively frozen its operations in the country.
In 2020, the Treasury Department licensed Chevron and other companies to undertake only the preservation of their assets in Venezuela, while prohibiting production and interface with Venezuelan officials. Last year, the license was extended through June 2022.