The Biden administration will begin to ease some energy sanctions on Venezuela to encourage ongoing political discussions between President Nicolas Maduro and the opposition, two senior administration officials told CNN.
The first step, to be announced on Tuesday, will allow Chevron – the last major US oil company still operating in Venezuela – to negotiate its license with state-owned oil company PDVSA to continue operations in the country, the officials said.
The US has for months been in talks with the Venezuelan government and opposition leader Juan Guaidó about moving toward a political settlement following Maduro’s contested election victory in 2019, which the US did not recognize as legitimate.
The decision to ease some US energy sanctions on Venezuela came at the request of the country’s opposition, a senior administration official said, as it looks to return to negotiations with the Maduro regime.
The US will continue to calibrate its sanctions policy toward Venezuela – either by strengthening or alleviating sanctions – “on the basis of ambitious, concrete and irreversible outcomes that empower the Venezuelan people to determine the future in their country through democratic elections,” the official said.
While the US is now allowing Chevron to negotiate its license with state-owned oil company PDVSA, it is not allowing entry into any agreement.
“Fundamentally, what they’re doing is just allowed to talk,” the official said.
The US has also been looking for ways to allow Venezuela to begin producing more oil and selling it on the international market, thereby reducing the world’s energy dependence on Russia, officials told CNN. But the easing of sanctions in any realm will only happen as Maduro continues to hold substantial discussions with the opposition, the officials emphasized.
The administration took the steps on Tuesday “in full coordination” with Guaidó and his interim administration, which the US recognizes as the rightful leadership of Venezuela, one official said. Before sanctions relief goes any further, the US will have to see meaningful progress in the political discussions, the officials said.
The announcement is the second major shift in US policy toward autocratic regimes in Latin America. On Monday, the Biden administration announced it was loosening some Trump-era rules on Cuba, including allowing more commercial and charter flights.
The official insisted the steps were unrelated to the upcoming Summit of the Americans, which Biden will host in Los Angeles in June.
Instead, the moves are intended to support dialogue that could help reach better outcomes while still standing up for human rights.
The second official said if easing sanctions on Venezuela to allow for negotiations with the opposition government allows for the US to address issues like Americans currently held captive in Venezuela, “I think that’s always something that we’re going to do.”
Five of the six American oil executives known collectively as the “CITGO 6” – Tomeu Vadell, Jorge Toledo, Alirio Jose Zambrano, Jose Luis Zambrano and Jose Angel Pereira – who were arrested in Venezuela more than four years ago remain detained there, as do Americans Matthew Heath, Luke Denman and Airan Berry. Two Americans who had been detained there, including one of the CITGO 6, were released in March following the visit of two top US government officials to Caracas. The official said Tuesday “there’s no question” that US officials would make a trip again if it would lead to the release of Americans.
This story has been updated with additional reporting.
CNN’s Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report.