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3 Mar, 2015

Venezuela sets deadline for U.S. to cut embassy staff

CARACAS, March 2 (Xinhua) — Washington has 15 days to reduce its 100-strong embassy staff in Caracas by some 80 percent, Venezuela said Monday.

It’s up to Washington to decide which 17 diplomats will remain out of an estimated 100, a size similar to the staff at the embassy of the South American nation in Washington, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez told reporters after a three-hour meeting with the top U.S. diplomat in Caracas.

“The U.S. government must keep 17 diplomats on our soil and we have given them 15 days to present us a list of those who will remain here,” she said.

In response to U.S. sanctions and restrictions on Venezuelan officials, President Nicolas Maduro Saturday unveiled a series of tit for tat measures, such as requiring U.S. travelers to apply for visas and drawing up an “anti-terrorist” list that bars certain U.S. officials from entering Venezuela, including former U. S. President George W. Bush and current senators Bob Menendez and Marco Rubio.

The measures also require U.S. diplomats to request permission from the Venezuelan government to meet with opposition political groups, in keeping with suspicions that U.S. personnel have been actively abetting the country’s right-wing extremists to foment unrest.

Venezuela has 17 staffers in Washington, Maduro said, adding that the embassies should be on par.

“These are decisions I take as head of state, in accordance with the Vienna Convention, our Bolivarian Constitution and the revolutionary conscience of the people of Venezuela. I call for a global rebellion against U.S. imperialism,” Maduro said at an anti- U.S. rally.

U.S. Charge d’Affaires Lee McClenny made no statements to the press after the meeting with Rodriguez, who described the encounter as “cordial.”

Relations between the two countries have been deteriorating lately, with Maduro accusing Washington of conspiring with opposition groups to launch a coup involving the bombing of the presidential palace. Washington called the accusation “ridiculous. ”

The two nations have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010, though they maintain stable trade relations.