(Adds Republican terrorist list plan, Chavez response)
WASHINGTON Feb 13 The United States on
Wednesday backed Exxon Mobil Corp's effort to win compensation
from Venezuela for seized assets in a case that has prompted
the OPEC nation to threaten to cut off oil supplies to
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a foe of the United
States, says Exxon (XOM.N) court victories that resulted in $12
billion in Venezuelan assets being frozen over the seizure is
part of an "economic war" to unseat him directed by the Bush
Despite its support for Exxon, the United States denies it
is working to oust Chavez and has distanced itself from the
specific legal case.
"We fully support the efforts of Exxon Mobil to get a just
and fair compensation package for their assets according to the
standards of international law," said State Department
spokesman Sean McCormack.
"But we are not involved in that dispute. It is something
that has to be litigated between Venezuela and Exxon Mobil and
various courts around the world," he added.
Chavez stopped oil exports to Exxon on Tuesday, escalating
Venezuela's multibillion-dollar fight with the U.S. company
over his nationalization of a project last year that was
part-owned by Exxon and Britain's BP (BP.L).
Separately, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told
lawmakers on Capitol Hill that U.S. officials were looking into
whether a recently reported deal between Venezuela's state-run
oil company and Iran violates U.S. law.
Rice said she was examining issues raised by Rep. Ileana
Ros-Lehtinen about a reported $1 billion deal late last year
between Venezuela's state-run Petroleos de Venezuela SA, which
owns the Citgo subsidiary in the United States, and Iran's
Petropars, a unit of the National Iranian Oil Company.
Ros-Lehtinen wrote to Rice and Treasury Secretary Henry
Paulson last week asking they probe whether Citgo benefited
from the company's deal with Iran. She also asked whether the
deal violates the "letter or the spirit" of the U.S. Iran
Sanctions Act, intended to deter investment in Iran.
"I want to thank you for raising the question. Of course,
we're looking into it," Rice told Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida
Republican, during an appearance before the House Foreign
Affairs Committee. A Citgo spokesman in Houston could not be
reached for comment.
A group of 21 Republican legislators, including
Ros-Lehtinen, is also looking to pass a resolution that would
add Venezuela to a list of countries that support terrorism.
The motion requested an investigation into whether
Venezuela could be defined as providing sanctuary for
terrorists. Chavez's critics accuse him of allowing Colombia's
Marxist guerrillas to cross the porous border into Venezuela.
Chavez, who opposes the war in Iraq, brushed aside the
accusations and said the United States should examine its own
"The first country that has to be on the list for
supporting terrorism is called the United States," he said.
"The first on the list of people is George W. Bush."
Britain, where a court issued a temporary ruling in favor
of Exxon over Chavez's seizure, also sought to distance itself
from the Exxon case on Wednesday to avoid harming ties with the
"The judiciary is independent. It's important to avoid that
this adversely affects the good ties we have with Venezuela,"
British Ambassador Catherine Royle told reporters after dozens
of Venezuelans protested the court ruling outside the embassy
Exxon and fellow American oil company ConocoPhillips
(COP.N) quit Venezuela over a wave of nationalizations last
year. BP was one of several European companies that struck
deals to remain in the seized projects as minority partners.
(Reporting by Sue Pleming and Susan Cornwell; additional
reporting by Saul Hudson and Frank Jack Daniel in Caracas,
Editing by Philip Barbara)