April 2, 2019 / 6:44 PM / 3 months ago

UPDATE 1-Low oil prices mean U.S. can stand firm on Venezuela sanctions, says Pence

(Adds quotes, details)

By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON, April 2 (Reuters) - Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday the United States would continue to pressure Venezuela's oil industry and those who support it with economic sanctions, citing world oil prices as low enough to allow for the measures.

Oil prices hit their highest point since November on Tuesday, with Brent crude approaching $70 a barrel, based in part on fears that U.S. sanctions against OPEC members Iran and Venezuela would result in a cut to global supplies.

Pence, who is helping lead the White House campaign to dislodge Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from power, made his remarks in a meeting with family members of six executives jailed in Venezuela since 2017. The executives worked for Citgo Petroleum, the U.S. refinery division of Venezuelan state oil firm PDVSA.

"We recognize the importance of energy to the United States," Pence told reporters. "But the price of oil around the world has been quite low for some time, quite competitive for some time, and we're just going to continue to stand firm and bring even more pressure on this regime," he said.

The United States and most other Western countries have backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who declared himself interim president in January, arguing that Maduro's 2018 reelection was illegitimate. Maduro has called Guaido a puppet of the United States.

The United States slapped stiff sanctions on PDVSA in January, aimed at cutting Maduro's government off from oil revenues.

President Donald Trump is considering expanding the measures with sanctions on foreign companies that do business with Venezuela, his national security adviser John Bolton said on Friday.

"We're going to continue to bring pressure on the oil industry. We're going to continue to bring pressure on countries in this hemisphere who are supporting the dictatorship in Venezuela," Pence said. (Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Rosalba O'Brien)

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