U.S. to lift sanctions on Rosneft units if Venezuela involvement ends: officials

(Reuters) - The United States would lift its sanctions on two units of Russian oil company Rosneft if it is clear the company is no longer involved in Venezuela, two U.S. officials said on Thursday.

Washington sanctioned Rosneft Trading in February for acting as an intermediary for Venezuelan state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela [PDVSA.UL], which in turn was sanctioned last year as part of the Trump administration’s efforts to force out socialist President Nicolas Maduro, whom it calls a dictator.

In March, the United States followed up with sanctions on TNK Trading, another Rosneft subsidiary that traded Venezuelan oil.

Rosneft said on Saturday it was selling its Venezuela assets, which include several upstream joint ventures with PDVSA, to another Russian state-run company. Tankers it had chartered to lift Venezuelan crude then left Caribbean waters empty after waiting off the country’s coast for weeks.

“If Rosneft Trading has nothing to do with Venezuela, then the sanctions that are based on its conduct in Venezuela or with respect to Venezuela should be lifted,” U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams told reporters. “I don’t know if that’s true yet.”

A second U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the sanctions relief would also be extended to TNK Trading if it ceased involvement in Venezuela.

The U.S. government has given companies a deadline of May 20 to wind down existing business with Rosneft Trading and TNK Trading.

Abrams added that it was not yet clear if the transfer of funds and activities between the Russian state and Rosneft related to the Venezuela deal had taken place.

Neither Russia nor Rosneft has disclosed the name of the company that will be buying the Venezuela assets from Rosneft. But Russia set up a new oil company, Roszarubezhneft, just as Rosneft was leaving Venezuela.

Maduro has called on the United States to lift its sanctions, and accuses Washington of seeking his ouster to assume control over the OPEC nation’s vast oil reserves.

Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Editing by Franklin Paul and Peter Cooney