Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Washington…
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department, March 17, 2020, in Washington.

WASHINGTON - The United States says it is willing to lift sanctions against Venezuela in exchange for the formation of a transitional government comprised of allies of President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday.
 
The plan calls on Maduro and Guaido to hand over power to a five-member council until presidential and parliamentary elections can be held within the next year.
 
Pompeo called on Maduro and Guaido to form a transitional government which would be tasked with scheduling elections within six to 12 months.
 
Pompeo said the U.S. would welcome efforts by Guaido to seek office in future elections, but maintained the U.S. position that Maduro must go.

FILE - Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a news conference at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, March 12, 2020.

The U.S. and more than 50 countries recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s interim leader.
 
“We’ve made clear all along that Nicolas Maduro will never again govern Venezuela,” Pompeo said at a Washington news conference Tuesday.
 
Pompeo said the U.S. continues to support Guaido and added, “When we put together this pathway to democracy, we worked closely with him.”
 
The U.S.’ top diplomat said sanctions “will remain in effect, and increase, until the Maduro regime accepts a genuine political transition.”  
 
The oil-rich country’s economy, already weakened by a U.S. economic pressure campaign, has been dealt subsequent blows by the coronavirus pandemic and falling oil prices. The coronavirus has also crippled the country’s health care system.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido waves to supporters during a rally at Bolivar Plaza, in Chacao, Venezuela, Feb. 11, 2020.

 The U.S. proposal also addresses for the first time the lifting of sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector and Maduro officials.
 
Officials facing accusations of human rights abuses and drug trafficking are not eligible for sanctions relief. But members of Maduro’s socialist government who have been blacklisted would benefit.
 
A transitional government is unlikely to be supported by Maduro and many of his allies unless he is guaranteed protections from the U.S. justice system.
 
“It's a little hard to see how this is going to be convincing to the major players in the government,” said David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America. “They seem to think the military is going to step in, but that seems extremely unlikely.”
 
The plan would also need the approval of Cuba, Russia or China — Maduro’s major political and economic supporters.  
 
The U.S. campaign against the South American country was spearheaded by economic and diplomatic pressure to break the military’s support for Maduro.
 
Last week, however, the U.S. indicted Maduro, the head of the supreme court, the defense minister and other key allies on drug trafficking and money laundering charges.
 
A high-ranking U.S. administration official who spoke anonymously with reporters on Monday said the U.S. is willing to negotiate with Maduro the terms of his exit, even with respect to the indictments against him.
 
On Saturday, Guaido called for the establishment of a “national emergency government.”

VOA's Nike Ching contributed to this report from the State Department.
 

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