In a significant development, the United States and Venezuela have advanced in discussions that could lead to sanctions relief for Venezuela. This relief may come in the form of permitting at least one additional foreign oil company to accept Venezuelan crude oil for debt repayment, contingent on President Nicolas Maduro's return to negotiations with the opposition in Mexico, according to sources familiar with the matter.
High-level envoys from Caracas and Washington have engaged in multiple meetings in Doha since last year, marking a renewed effort to address the protracted political and economic crisis plaguing Venezuela. These discussions have included deliberations on a potential presidential election. Furthermore, separate talks between representatives of President Maduro and the Venezuelan opposition are anticipated to take place in Mexico in the coming weeks.
The primary objective of Washington's efforts has been to facilitate negotiations between President Maduro and the political opposition, particularly with regard to elections in Venezuela and other pertinent issues. Sanctions were initially imposed following Maduro's contested reelection in 2018, which was widely deemed illegitimate by Western nations.
Among the companies being considered for a U.S. "comfort letter" to accept Venezuelan oil in debt repayment is Maurel & Prom, a joint venture partner of Venezuela's state-run PDVSA, according to sources. A spokesperson for Maurel & Prom confirmed that the French company had made such a request to U.S. authorities but did not provide further details.
Despite these significant developments, official statements have not been released by the U.S. State Department, the governments of Venezuela and Qatar, or the state company PDVSA regarding these negotiations.
It should be noted that while progress has been made in recent weeks, sources in Washington have cautioned against premature discussions of final agreements, as negotiations are ongoing.
These negotiations have once again brought Qatar into the spotlight as a prominent player in global diplomacy. Doha previously hosted extensive talks between the U.S. and Iran, leading to prisoner exchanges and fund releases.
In addition to the possibility of sanctions relief, the discussions between the U.S. and Venezuela have also encompassed various other key issues. These include addressing the longstanding appeal from Venezuela's opposition to release political prisoners, ensuring guarantees for fair elections, and exploring potential solutions to the influx of Venezuelan migrants in the United States.
Notably, the U.S. recently announced its intention to resume deportations of Venezuelans who enter the U.S. unlawfully via the U.S.-Mexico border. This move followed an agreement reached between U.S. officials and Maduro's envoys in Doha, sources have confirmed.
Earlier this year, U.S. authorities drafted a comprehensive proposal aimed at easing sanctions on Venezuela's oil sector, with the condition that Venezuela progresses toward holding free and fair elections. This proposal included potential amendments to existing U.S. executive orders or the issuance of new ones to enable European and other international buyers to resume imports of Venezuelan oil in an organized manner.
If these new authorizations are granted, they could provide relief to energy companies that have struggled to receive payments from Venezuela for years. In the long run, they could also support Venezuela's ambitious goal of doubling its crude oil production.
Although Washington has dangled the prospect of sanctions relief in the past, only a limited number of authorizations have been granted. Chevron, for instance, has been permitted to expand its operations in Venezuela and export its oil to the United States since November.
Numerous energy companies are now seeking similar authorizations, with the aim of capitalizing on outstanding debt in Venezuela and revitalizing oil and gas production in partnership with PDVSA. Repsol and Eni were among the companies granted U.S. comfort letters last year, allowing them to resume imports of Venezuelan crude as part of their debt repayment arrangements.