Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Taking sides

To no one's surprise, especially Venezuela's outspoken president, Hugo Chavez, the U.S. government said today it was backing Exxon in its multibillion-dollar dispute with Venezuela over seized assets. The dispute, in which Exxon Mobil obtained court orders freezing $12 billion in Venezuelan assets, led Chavez to threaten to cut off his country's oil imports to the United States. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Wednesday that the United States supports "the efforts of Exxon Mobil to get a just and fair compensation package for their assets according to the standards of international law," according to the Reuters international news service. Venezuela nationalized an oil production project co-owned by Exxon Mobil and British Petroleum, part of Chavez's efforts to exert more control over his country's natural resources. Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips abandoned Venezuela last year during a wave of nationalizations; BP and other European companies elected to stay in the country as minority partners. Chavez has contended that Exxon Mobil was doing the bidding of the United States in an "economic war" to force him out, but U.S. officials say they are not involved in the disagreement. "We are not involved in that dispute," McCormack said yesterday. "It is something that has to be litigated between Venezuela and Exxon Mobil and various courts around the world." In a related matter, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the United States was investigating whether a recent deal between Venezuela's state-run oil company and Iran violated the U.S. Iran Sanctions Act. The United States accuses Chavez, an avowed Marxist, of giving sanctuary to guerrillas battling the pro-U.S. government in neighboring Colombia.

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