(Bloomberg) -- Venezuela’s government must release jailed Americans for its relationship with the US to move forward, Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols said on Tuesday.
“Without progress in this area a normal relationship with Venezuela is not possible,” Nichols said at an Atlantic Council event in DC. “We continue to insist and advocate for their immediate release.”
The White House is evaluating potential consequences after President Nicolás Maduro failed to release detained Americans by an end-of-November deadline, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Sunday. Venezuela said last week that it opened the door for opposition leaders to join presidential elections ahead of the deadline, meeting one part of the agreement.
“We were extremely concerned that they didn’t take those two extra steps — release of political prisoners and getting our wrongfully detained Americans home,” Kirby said on CBS’ Face the Nation. “That’s something we take very seriously, getting those folks home, and we’re going to keep at it.”
Read More: US Reviewing Options After Venezuela Fails to Release Detainees
US citizens Eyvin Hernández, Jerrel Kenemore and Joseph Cristella are currently detained in a Caracas prison. Hernández and Kenemore were separately arrested at Venezuela’s border with Colombia in March 2022 and charged with criminal association and conspiracy. Cristella was arrested in September 2022 under similar conditions and charged with terrorism.
President Joe Biden’s administration announced a deal with Venezuela in October to lift some sanctions, including a six-month authorization of oil and gas transactions in the country. Several foreign oil majors, including Chevron Corp., currently operate in the country.
The license will only be renewed if Maduro begins the release of detainees and meets commitments toward fair presidential elections, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at the time. The US will “reverse the steps we have taken” if Venezuela fails to deliver, Blinken said.
“The process needs to reach a decision quickly,” Nichols said on Tuesday. “The Maduro authority needs to demonstrate that they have the courage to allow a serious opposition candidate.”
Read More: Secret Talks, Oil Sanctions: Inside a US-Venezuela Breakthrough
--With assistance from Nicolle Yapur and Andreina Itriago Acosta.
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