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US weighing sanctions on Rosneft for Venezuela trade: Trump administration official

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Sanctions have been under consideration for months

Official says US halfway through pressure campaign on Maduro

Washington — The US continues to weigh sanctions on Russian state oil company Rosneft as it continues to receive Venezuelan crude as debt repayment and sell it to China and India buyers, a senior Trump administration official said Wednesday.

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The official, who was briefing the press on the White House visit Tuesday of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, said that the US was only halfway through its "maximum pressure" campaign to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from power. The official said that sanctions on Rosneft could be part of that ongoing campaign.

"We are indeed concerned about the behavior of Rosneft in Venezuela; how we approach that is a question of internal deliberation which, obviously, I can't address," the official said, cautioning all companies against any activities in Venezuela which could benefit the Maduro regime.

"Absolutely everything is an option in regards to creating pressure," the official said.

A senior Trump administration official told S&P Global Platts in August 2019 that the US was prepared to sanction Rosneft if it continued to trade crude oil and fuel with PDVSA, but analysts said those sanctions have yet to be imposed because of the expected impact they may have on the global oil market.

Guaidó, who the US recognizes as Venezuela's legitimate president, was a guest at President Trump's State of the Union address Tuesday night.

"Maduro is an illegitimate ruler, a tyrant who brutalizes his people," Trump said in his speech. "But Maduro's grip on tyranny will be smashed and broken."

Last month, the US Treasury Department announced it had extended for three months a sanctions waiver to Chevron and four US oil services companies, allowing them to continue to work in Venezuela with state oil company PDVSA. Some analysts claimed Venezuela's oil output, which averaged 720,000 b/d in December, according to the latest Platts OPEC survey, could plunge below 300,000 b/d if the waiver was allowed to expire.

The US last month also extended a waiver preventing creditors of PDVSA from taking control of US refiner Citgo as a result of missed payments on its 2020 bonds. Both waivers were extended until April 22.