WASHINGTON (Reuters) Senior U.S. officials traveled to Venezuela on Saturday for talks with President Nicolas Maduro's government to determine whether Caracas is prepared to distance itself from close ally Russia amid its invasion of Ukraine, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The trip, the highest-level U.S. visit to Venezuela in years, came as part of a U.S. effort to isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin. Some analysts also see U.S.-sanctioned Venezuela as a potential alternate source of oil supplies should Washington attempt to restrict Moscow's energy shipments.
U.S. and Venezuelan officials held a round of talks on Saturday but reached no agreement, and the source told Reuters on condition of anonymity. It was unclear whether a further meeting would be held.
The visit, which involved senior White House and State Department officials, was first reported by the New York Times.
The White House and State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
IN RECENT YEARS, the U.S. government has primarily shunned direct contacts with Maduro's socialist government.
The two countries broke off diplomatic relations in 2019 amid a campaign of U.S. sanctions and diplomatic pressure to oust Maduro, a longtime Putin ally.
The administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump and dozens of other countries deemed Maduro's 2018 re-election a sham. Instead, it recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as its legitimate president.
But Maduro has retained power with the backing of the country's OPEC member's military and Russia, China, Cuba, and Iran.
President Joe Biden's administration has insisted it will not lift sanctions, including Venezuela's vital oil sector unless Maduro takes concrete steps toward holding free elections.
While Venezuela's oil exports have taken a significant hit, Russian oil companies and banks have played a key role in helping Maduro and state-run oil company PDVSA evade U.S. sanctions and continue shipments.
The United States and its allies have come under growing pressure to further punish Russia for its military onslaught against Ukraine by sanctioning Russia's oil and gas exports. The White House has said all options remain on the table.
Some commentators have suggested that easing sanctions on Venezuela could provide an alternate source of global energy supplies. However, critics say Maduro should not benefit without changing his behavior.
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Venezuela on February 25 blamed the United States and NATO for the crisis in Ukraine, though it expressed "worry over the worsening of the crisis" there. Cuba and Nicaragua have also defended Putin's stance on Ukraine
In a March 1 phone call, Putin and Maduro discussed the situation in Ukraine and talked about increasing a strategic partnership between Russia and Venezuela, the Interfax news agency reported, citing the Kremlin.