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Senior Administration Officials on Venezuela

MODERATOR:  Good evening, everyone, and thank you so much for joining us this evening for this background call on Venezuela.  This evening’s call is on background and attributable to senior administration officials, and it is embargoed until its conclusion.  For your information only and not for reporting, we have with us on the line from the Department of State [Senior Administration Official One], and from the National Security Council [Senior Administration Official Two].

With that, I’d like to turn over the floor, please, to [Senior Administration Official One] for opening remarks.  Over to you, sir.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Thanks very much.  As I’m sure all of you have seen, the Unitary Platform of Venezuela and their representatives – Nicolás Maduro yesterday signed a partial roadmap to elections in Venezuela.  We believe that this roadmap is the most viable path for the people of Venezuela to secure a durable agreement that leads to competitive elections, the restoration of democratic order, and the end to the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

In accordance with our longstanding policy, the United States – sorry, my phone was ringing; apologies, turn that off – in accordance with our longstanding policy, as a result of this agreement, the United States will provide limited sanctions relief, primarily in the oil and gas sector, in response to this important development.  The power and integrity of United States sanctions derives not only from our ability to sanction bad actors, but also to delist them.  Our ultimate goal with sanctions is to bring about positive change in behavior.

With regard to Venezuela, the United States has leveraged our sanctions to incentivize the parties to take concrete steps to restore democratic order in country.  We are now issuing temporary and limited authorizations, primarily in the oil and gas sector, in response to the positive changes announced yesterday.

The administration has been clear that other sanctions and restrictions imposed by the United States on Venezuela remain in place.  The United States Government retains the authority to amend or revoke all authorizations should Maduro and his representatives fail to follow through on their commitments.  We’re firmly committed to the Venezuelan people, and we will continue to work with the international community to support the strengthening and restoration of democracy and the rule of law so that Venezuelans can rebuild their lives and their country.

I’ll stop there and be happy to get into greater detail as we move forward.

MODERATOR:  Thanks.  [Operator], would you mind please repeating the institutions for joining the question queue?

OPERATOR:  Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 on your phone.  Press 1 then 0 only one time, as pressing it a second time will remove you from the question-and-answer queue.

MODERATOR:  Great.  Can we please go to the line of Jennifer Hansler from CNN.

QUESTION:  Hi, can you hear me?

OPERATOR:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thank you for doing this call.  I’m wondering whether you have any insights on why this agreement was able to reach in this iteration of negotiations, given we’ve seen a number of times where there have been negotiations that fell apart.  And then separately, do you see this as paving the way or setting any sort of ground for the potential release of the U.S. detainees in Venezuela?  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  So let me start and then maybe [Senior Administration Official Two] will want to make some comments as well.  The effort to get the parties back to the negotiating table has involved a lot of hard work and support from the international community.  In a statement released by the U.S., Canada, and the EU yesterday, sort of recognized the international community, in particular Norway for its role in facilitating these talks.  The United States, with the assistance of Qatar, has worked to support and encourage this process as well and make sure that an incentive structure to make real changes exists.  And there’s still a significant amount of work that remains, but I think this is absolutely the best way forward for us.

With regard to the release of wrongfully detained Americans and political prisoners, for us that is a sine qua non for this agreement, and we have conveyed our expectation clearly that that will be a key part of the implementation of this process.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  And I’ll add just briefly that the representatives of the Unitary Platform of the Venezuelan opposition, even before going to Barbados, had been engaged in regular conversations with the other side, and so the signature in Barbados was the culmination of a lot of work.  I want to underscore as well that the United States coordinates very closely with the Unitary Platform and other democratic actors on the steps needed to move forward on a negotiated solution that leads to competitive elections and the restoration of democracy in Venezuela.

I think we’ve been very clear that our policy is to alleviate sanctions pressure on the basis of concrete steps that take the country toward competitive elections and improve the humanitarian situation in the country.  And as the Unitary Platform was negotiating and getting to an agreement, our efforts were to support them, give them the incentives necessary to be able to get towards signature.

MODERATOR:  Great.  Thank you so much.  Could we please go to the line of Carolina Alcalde from Voice of America?

OPERATOR:  Your line is now open.

QUESTION:  Yes, hi.  I just want to know about the inhabilitations (inaudible).  Is maybe United States speaking with the Maduro government in order to allowed, for example, María Corina Machado to run into the elections in 2024?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  So the partial agreement signed yesterday clearly states that the promotion of a way forward for all candidates to be able to run and be authorized is part of that process agreed to by the parties.  I know that the unitary platform’s lead negotiator, Gerardo Blyde, has specifically pressed this issue in the negotiations, and this is something that we consider vital to the process.  And we also very clearly stated that this is essential for Venezuelans to be able to have a choice, a democratic choice, for all candidates to have a path toward being authorized and running.

QUESTION:  I’m sorry, I’m asking that because Mr. Rodriguez yesterday said that it’s not possible that, for example, María Corina Machado can run into that elections because she don’t have – she’s inhabilitated – inhabilitado, I’m sorry.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  So the agreement that he signed says that there will be a path to authorize all candidates, and the clear understanding and the context of the negotiations has been that the Maduro authorities will act expeditiously to authorize all candidates, and that’s certainly our understanding of the way forward.  The Maduro authorities don’t have a role in the primary process that will take place on Sunday, so it’s not required for that.  But for the general election, obviously, all the candidates need to have a path to authorization and an expeditious one.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  If I could put a specific point on what [Senior Administration Official One] said, is we have conveyed our expectation directly to representatives of Nicolas Maduro that they will take these – those steps before the end of November.  So to your question, define a specific timeline for the expedited reauthorization or rehabilitation of all candidates – underscore all, because fundamentally all who want to run for president should be allowed the opportunity so that Venezuelans are the ones who pick their political leadership.

And on the other, I can’t underscore enough that the – we need to see the beginning of the release of all wrongfully detained U.S. nationals and Venezuelan political prisoners.  So for us, in addition to the terms of the electoral roadmap, we are insisting on seeing progress in these two areas before the end of November or we’re going to have to reconsider what has been, from our perspective, a fairly significant incentive for the parties to move forward with this electoral roadmap.  Over.

MODERATOR:  Great, thank you so much.  Can we please go to the line of Eduard Ribas from EFE News?

QUESTION:  Yes, hi, thank you.  Thank you for doing this.  I would like to know what concrete steps you want to see to consider the elections of Venezuela to be democratic, and also if the United States considers being an observer in these next elections.  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  So among the steps that the parties have agreed to and that we consider very important: updating the electoral registry; allowing international observers – the Carter Center, the European Union, in particular, have observed elections in Venezuela previously and have a track record of seriousness and impartiality; the promotion of a public discourse and a political and social climate favorable to carrying out a peaceful and participatory electoral process; the measures to guarantee the safety, security, and freedom of movement of all candidates throughout the country; transparent financing mechanisms to ensure people are able to compete in an equitable way; access to the media.

All of those things are vital to a competitive, transparent election that represents the will of the Venezuelan people, and the parties have agreed to them.  And we believe that that sets the framework for an election that will return Venezuela to a democratic path.  I’ll pause there.  My colleague may want to offer some additional thoughts.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Nope, nothing to add.

MODERATOR:  Great, thank you so much.  Can we please go to the line of Haik Gugarats from Argus Media?

OPERATOR:  Your line is now open.

QUESTION:  Yes, hi.  It’s not clear from your frequently answered questions:  Does this affect U.S. Government position on CITGO trial or any other Venezuelan assets in the United States?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  This action does not affect the judicial process related to the CITGO bankruptcy trial, nor does it impact the frozen assets of Venezuela in the United States or other jurisdictions.  With regard to the latter, I’d note that the United Nations has announced that a year after – almost a year after the signing of the humanitarian and social agreement in November of last year, it has taken steps to establish the UN humanitarian trust fund, and there could be certain assets that are transferred into that trust fund, though that process has not begun yet.  But that is not related to the things that we’ve announced today.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  One thing I would add to what was said was – which [Senior Administration Official One], I think, alluded to – is that not only are frozen assets not going to be made available except for access for the – with the UN trust fund, but we have still in place a very robust sanctions program in Venezuela.  Not only that, but the actions today will not impact the Iran-related sanctions or sanctions that we have in other areas as they impact or have implications for the Venezuelan oil and gas sector.  Over.

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.  Can we please go to Nick Pope from The Daily Caller?

QUESTION:  Hello there.  Can I – am I being heard?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Okay, great.  Thank you very much.  Thanks for hosting the call; I appreciate it.  I’m curious to know if there’s any concern, either within the State Department or perhaps the administration more broadly, about alleged and sometimes reported connections between the Venezuelan Government and transnational criminal organizations, and whether or not those connections are factoring into the discussions here and this deal more broadly.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  So the sanctions relief that we’re talking about now, as I think was touched upon in the last answer, this does not affect it – specific sanctions with regard to other criminal activity like narcotics trafficking or human rights violations.  So anyone who’s covered by those sanctions would continue to be covered still, and we continue to be concerned about any violations of law committed, and the international authorities and the U.S. authorities continue to look very closely at those matters, so that – this hasn’t changed our position on those things.

MODERATOR:  Great.  Well, that concludes all of our questions.  With that, the call has now concluded, and as a reminder, this evening’s call was on background, attributable to senior administration officials.  The embargo has now lifted.  Thank you all for joining us.

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/senior-administration-officials-on-venezuela/

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