WASHINGTON -- White House promises of “strong and swift” economic sanctions meant to punish Venezuela have been slowed by a senior State Department official who is holding tight to an Obama-era posture that sidelines aggressive measures in favor of dialogue.
According to multiple sources familiar with the talks between the White House and State, Thomas Shannon, the undersecretary for political affairs and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s right-hand man at the department, has pushed back against the most aggressive sanctions out of concern they could close off diplomatic channels to Caracas.
“The White House is completely on a different page,” said a source who is familiar with the conversations but couldn’t speak publicly because of the sensitivity of the talks. “It’s such a disaster. It’s an absolute, absolute disaster.”
The Trump administration has been delivering mixed signals since the July 30 vote in Venezuela that will allow a new constituent assembly to change the Venezuelan constitution and strip current lawmakers of power.
Soon after the vote, McMaster and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin took Trump’s message to the public declaring Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro a dictator and announced new sanctions against him personally. The State Department moved more cautiously, delivering a message the next day through Spanish language media that they wanted to continue talks with the Maduro government.
“We want to dialogue with the government of President Maduro,” Michael Fitzpatrick, a deputy assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere told EFE Spanish wire service. “We do not necessarily recognize parallel or separate governments. We respect the official government of Venezuela and President Maduro at this time.”
Photo credit: Wil Riera, Associated Press