WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – “Turkey’s support for the Maduro regime” in Venezuela “is completely contrary to US policy and very unhelpful,” US Special Representative for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, said on Tuesday, as he responded to a question from Kurdistan 24.
Asked specifically about Venezuela’s gold trade with Turkey and whether the US might consider secondary sanctions on Turkey, Abrams said, “We will continue to take a look at the ways in which [Turkey’s] support” to Venezuela “takes place and in the context of sanctions by [the] Treasury [Department.]”
Late on Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that the US was withdrawing the remainder of its embassy staff from Caracas as tensions sharpen between the two countries.
Venezuela is suffering an extended electricity outage that its de facto leader, Nicolas Maduro, blames on the US, while US authorities say it is simply the product of the Maduro regime’s corruption and its mismanagement of the economy.
Washington views Juan Guaido, the leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly, as the country’s legitimate president and endorses his claim that Maduro’s re-election last year was fraudulent.
Turkey, on the other hand, is one of a handful of countries, along with Russia, Iran, Cuba, China, and Bolivia, that support the Maduro regime.
In January, Venezuela’s Minister of Industry and former Vice-President, Tareck El Aissami, visited Ankara, where he met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to finalize an agreement on gold trading.
The Venezuelan-born Aissami has family ties to Iraq’s former Baathist regime, through his father, while he, himself, is reported to have links with Syria, Iran, and Cuba, as well as Lebanese Hezbollah.
In 2017, the US designated Aissami a drug kingpin. On Friday, criminal charges were brought against Aissami by the US Attorney’s Office in New York for violating sanctions by using a US-based air transport company “to set up private meetings around the globe including Turkey and Russia.”
Earlier, Elliott Abrams appeared before a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sen. Ted Cruz (R, Texas) stated, “I understand that the administration is in possession of a list of Turkish entities that are moving gold for Venezuela.”
“Can you outline how the administration intends to address these and other bad actors?” Cruz asked him.
Abrams explained that the US begins by talking to the relevant governments and enterprises, advising them that what they are doing is wrong and could subject them to sanctions.
Turkey certainly has been cautioned in that fashion. In early February, Marshall Billingslea, the Treasury Department’s Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing, visited Ankara and warned officials there about Turkish trade with Venezuela.
However, the effort appears to have had little effect.
Abrams told Cruz that in some areas of the world, companies do accept the demand to end their commercial dealings with Venezuela because they do not want to risk being targeted by US sanctions.
However, Abrams continued, “We have not had that success in the case of gold sales in the Middle East.”
Editing by Nadia Riva