'No reason' for opposition talks to go on unless funds are released: Venezuela official

Venezuelan National Assembly's President Jorge Rodriguez exits after the opening of the 2023 legislative period, in Caracas, Venezuela January 5, 2023. REUTERS/Leonardo Fernandez Viloria/File Photo

CARACAS, Jan 17 (Reuters) - The head of the Venezuelan government's negotiating team in its talks with the country's opposition said on Tuesday there was no reason to return to dialogue if the government's opponents do not "return" frozen foreign assets.

Venezuela's government and opposition said in November they had asked the United Nations to manage more than $3 billion now held in foreign banks, gradually releasing the money to fund humanitarian efforts.

The money was frozen by U.S. and European banks after the United States ramped up sanctions to pressure President Nicolas Maduro to take steps toward free elections.

The opposition national assembly - backed by the United States and others - is able to control some assets in other countries, including U.S.-based refiner Citgo Petroleum.

The socialist Maduro government has said repeatedly that the opposition must "liberate" the funds, while the opposition says they are unable to act unilaterally because of various legal cases and the U.S. sanctions.

"If the return to the Venezuelan people of the $3.2 billion that (the opposition) has robbed is not carried out... there is no reason to continue a dialogue with people who don't keep their word," ruling party lawmaker Jorge Rodriguez, who heads the government's delegation, said during a televised sitting of the government-backed legislature.

Rodriguez said the funds had been "kidnapped" and it was his "moral obligation" to make sure the UN agreement was carried out.

There was no immediate reaction from the opposition delegation at the talks.

Venezuela owes more than $60 billion to creditors and is facing demands over nationalizations conducted 15 years ago and bond payments delayed since 2017.

The opposition has sought to protect foreign assets from creditors.

The United States on Tuesday extended for three months the license that protects Citgo Petroleum from creditors trying to auction its assets to cash on pending debt.

Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Deisy Buitrago Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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