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Venezuela Tells US to Downsize Embassy Staff

U.S. Chargé d'Affaires Lee McClenny arrives for a private meeting with Venezuela's Foreign Relations Minister Delcy Rodriguez in Caracas, Venezuela, March 2, 2015.

Venezuela's government has given the U.S. two weeks to slash the size of its embassy staff in Caracas to 17 diplomats as tensions between the two nations rise.

Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez made the announcement Monday after a meeting with the top American diplomat in Caracas. She said it is up to the U.S. to decide which of an estimated 100 diplomats it wishes to send home.

The move came after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro lashed out Saturday at what he called U.S. "conspiracies" against his socialist government and ordered the foreign ministry to reduce the number of officials at the American embassy from 100 to 17. He also imposed a visa requirements for American tourists.

Maduro claimed that Venezuela has detained American spies, including one he said was a U.S. pilot of Latino origin.

The Venezuelan president often criticizes the United States for what he says is meddling in his country's affairs. The United States has not exchanged ambassadors with the South American country since 2010.

Meanwhile, four American missionaries from North Dakota, detained and deported from Venezuela last week, are recovering on the nearby island of Aruba. It is unclear whether the missionaries were the Americans Maduro was referring to when he said the government had arrested U.S. citizens engaged in espionage.