Reports earlier this year had pointed to a new Qatari mediation role between the US and Venezuela.
Quiet negotiations took place in Qatar between the United States and Venezuela resulting in a “tentative agreement” for free and fair elections in Caracas, which may potentially lead to the easing of crippling sanctions.
The development was first reported by McClatchy and the Miami Herald on Monday, both of which have cited sources privy to the matter.
The reports have pointed to the possibility of Washington easing its sanctions on Caracas “in the coming days” if President Nicolas Maduro signs an agreement with the opposition to hold free and fair elections.
The Miami Herald said the agreement could potentially come on Tuesday, noting the US has insisted that Maduro publicly signs the deal before it lifts the sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector.
Sanctions were imposed on the South American country under former US President Donald Trump in a bid to exert maximum pressure on President Maduro.
However, a White House official dismissed reports of entering a new deal with Maduro, maintaining that Washington has long said it would lift sanctions if the Venezuelan president holds democratic reform.
“There is no ‘deal’ between us and nothing has been committed to between the US and Venezuela,” the official told McClatchy.
The official added that “the key conversations are between the opposition and Maduro”, noting that there is a “minimal” involvement from the US side.
“We are only minimally involved because of the fact that we have sanctions on Venezuela and would, consistent with our longstanding policy, provide some relief in response to concrete steps toward competitive elections,” the official explained.
Meanwhile, Reuters separately reported on Monday that the potential deal would set the election date in 2024, enable international observers to oversee the elections, and lift a ban on opposition candidates from running
Another Qatari mediation?
In June, Spain’s El Pais first broke the news over a meeting in Qatar that allegedly took place between the president of the Venezuelan National Assembly Jorge Rodríguez and Juan Gonzalez, an advisor to US President Joe Biden.
The sources had claimed that both Rodriguez and Gonzalez “met to establish a direct channel of communication” between the adversaries.
In its latest report on the Qatari mediation, the Miami Herald reported that the American and Venezuelan sides have held “a series of subsequent meetings in recent months” following the one in the Gulf state.
It added that the US team stressed that international monitors must oversee the elections, which would also lift a ban that prevented opposition figures from running for elections, namely former national assembly member Maria Corina Machado.
The American media reports noted that the opposition were not present in any of the talks, including the ones in Doha.
While Qatari officials have not publicly spoken on the reported discussions nor announced an official mediating role, analysts believe the heavyweight diplomatic power is “well-placed” to assume such a position between the US and Venezuela.
Dr. Andreas Krieg, an Assistant Professor of Defence Studies at King’s College London, had pointed to Doha’s neutral position as Caracas faces Western and American sanctions.
“Qatar has maintained a very neutral relationship in this regard. Plus, Qatar has really extended its networks in Latin America over the last couple of years. So for Latin Americans, Qatar increasingly appears to be also a trusted partner, particularly when it comes to energy,” Dr. Krieg told Doha News in September.
The release of political prisoners has been among the key demands by the opposition figures and a matter that came during the reported Doha talks.
Notably, Qatar has assumed key mediation roles over the past decade, from US talks with the Taliban as well as last month’s milestone prisoner exchange deal between Washington and Tehran.
“In the meeting, they talked about the release of prisoners and the need to normalise political life in Venezuela,” a source had informed El Pais in June, referring to the discussions in Qatar.
However, the latest reports on the potential agreement said that it remains unclear whether release of political prisoners would be a condition for the potential deal with President Maduro.
It also remains unclear whether the Gulf diplomatic power would assume another mediation position in the prisoner release.
Meanwhile, the Norwegian embassy in Mexico announced on Monday that meetings between Maduro’s regime and the opposition, known as the Unitary Platform, are set to commence in Barbados on Tuesday.
“The government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the unitary platform of Venezuela (The opposition) have decided to resume the dialogue and negotiation process facilitated by Norway with the objective of reaching a political agreement, in accordance with the provisions of the Memorandum of Understanding signed in the City of Mexico on August 13, 2021,” the embassy said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The US had welcomed the announcement, saying it “will continue its efforts to unite the international community in support of the Venezuelan-led negotiation process”, State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement on Monday.
While the reports have portrayed an optimistic climate in the talks between the US and Venezuela, the skepticism has remained in place given the collapse of previous negotiations between Maduro’s regime and opposition.
“The regime has only one goal, to get Washington to lift sanctions. They are not interested in embarking into a political transition, they are not interested in recovering the democratic system, nor holding just and transparent elections. They only want the sanctions lifted,” opposition Congressman William Davila of the Accion Democratica party said, as quoted by the Miami Herald.
In 2019, Maduro severed diplomatic ties with the US after it recognised opposition leader Juan Guaido as the interim president amid rising tensions between the two countries.
The sanctions imposed by Trump came as it faced an economic crisis that led to a rise in inflation, forcing millions to starve and flee the country. Trump’s perceived attempt to overthrow Maduro was widely seen by analysts as another US attempt to meddle in the affairs of Venezuela and the wider Latin American region.
Notably, relations between the US and Venezuela have appeared to warm in recent months under the Joe Biden administration. In January, Maduro said he was open to normalising ties with the US following a visit by officials from the Biden administration.
Last year’s dialogue in Mexico between the US and Venezuela pointed to a possible breakthrough, with the US agreeing to release some $3-$5 billion of Caracas’ frozen funds abroad.
However, Venezuela said the Biden administration has yet to release the funds.