Rex Tillerson: U.S. May Restrict Oil Purchases from Venezuela

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday that Washington is considering to restrict purchases of oil from crisis-torn Venezuela, The Los Angeles Times reported.

The U.S. wants “free, fair, and verifiable elections” in Venezuela and wants to apply enough pressure to end the crisis in the South American country, Tillerson said in Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires. The Venezuelan government has faced widespread criticism over its decision to push up presidential elections under conditions that opponents say overwhelmingly favor President Nicolas Maduro.

But Tillerson also said he wants to find ways to mitigate the negative effect sanctions would have on U.S. oil companies, Venezuelans and other regional countries that rely on Venezuelan oil.

“The situation is becoming quite dire in Venezuela, so one of the aspects of considering sanctioning oil is what effect would it have on the Venezuelan people, and is it a step that might bring this to an end, to a more rapid end,” Tillerson said. “Not doing anything to bring this to an end is also asking the Venezuelan people to suffer for a much longer time.”

Venezuela sits atop the world’s largest oil reserves and is the third-largest supplier to the U.S. The U.S. oil industry says that a ban on petroleum imports from Venezuela would hurt U.S. jobs and drive up gasoline costs.

But such sanctions also pose a great threat to Maduro. For all of his anti-capitalist rhetoric, Venezuela remains highly dependent on U.S. oil exports, especially for importing food and medicine, which are in short supply as crude prices have plunged and spiraling inflation erodes its economy.

“This is under study, it’s under consideration,” Tillerson said about the potential sanctions.

“We’ve had exchanges in Mexico City, we’ve had exchanges today about it, and I think the point being that all of us in the region want to see Venezuela return to its constitution,” said Tillerson, who is on a six-day trip to Argentina, Colombia, Panama, Peru, Mexico and Jamaica.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Tillerson, Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said that Argentina does not recognize “the political process and authoritarian deviation of Venezuela,” nor the assembly. He also said Argentina is against the restrictions on freedoms and bans imposed on opposition leaders under Maduro’s government.