November 20, 2014 / 12:17 AM / 3 years ago

Obama administration would back sanctions against Venezuela: official

U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken speaks on Syria at the White House in Washington, September 9, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration would like to work with the U.S. Congress to impose sanctions on Venezuela in response to a crackdown on anti-government protests, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser told lawmakers on Wednesday.

Tony Blinken, who is Obama’s choice to be deputy secretary of state, said Washington had refrained from pushing for sanctions in the past few months to allow diplomatic efforts by some Latin American countries to secure the release of opposition leaders from jail and nudge Caracas toward electoral reform.

But those efforts have failed, Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at his nomination hearing. “We would not oppose moving forward with additional sanctions,” he said.

In July, Washington barred a group of Venezuelan officials, including government ministers and presidential advisers, from the United States after accusing them of abuses in the crackdown on protests against President Nicolas Maduro this spring.

But the State Department did not say who would be denied entry and said the measures did not amount to sanctions against Venezuela.

Pointing to those measures, Blinken told the senators: “We would look forward to working with you to go further.”

In Venezuela’s worst unrest in a decade, 43 people were killed and several thousand were arrested in months of demonstrations spearheaded by hard-line opposition and student leaders at the start of this year.

Maduro has condemned talk of sanctions from Washington. Venezuelan officials have accused the opposition of plotting to topple Maduro in league with Washington.

Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Ken Wills

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