A U.S. State Department official pressed Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro at a congressional hearing on Thursday, threatening more sanctions if talks with the opposition are not resumed. seek to resolve the country’s protracted political and economic crisis.
Talks between Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaidó were last held in Mexico City last year, but have yielded little.
The government of President Joe Biden recognizes Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, after having considered Maduro’s re-election in 2018 a farce. Maduro, a socialist, remains in power despite harsh US sanctions on his oil industry.
“Nicolas Maduro … is making a critical mistake if he thinks our patience is endless and delaying tactics will serve him well,” said Brian Nichols, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
“We are prepared to respond with sanctions and to take comprehensive action” if talks don’t move forward, Nichols told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat and chairman of the committee, said Venezuela is sinking deeper into crisis, with rampant drug trafficking and corruption.
“As far as I can discern, Maduro has not made any significant concessions or (taken) concrete steps to return to negotiations in Mexico City,” Menendez said. “In the meantime, he has turned the nation into a narco-state, he has built his national heritage and nothing happens,” he added.
The US sanctions on the sale of Venezuelan oil are like a “sieve” with countries like Turkey, Russia and China that circumvent them “with impunity.”
Nichols said the administration would use sanctions and enforcement, as well as work with partners around the world to ensure the regime does not secure access to assets currently frozen under US sanctions.
Nichols, who traveled to Mexico this week, said he and other US diplomats and “key allies” had a meeting on Venezuela on Wednesday and that the United States is also in close contact with Maduro and the opposition.