U.S. Sanctions Top Venezuelan Officials

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Monday declared Venezuela a national security threat and ordered sanctions against seven officials from the oil-rich country in the worst bilateral diplomatic dispute since socialist President Nicolas Maduro took office in 2013.

President Barack Obama issued and signed the executive order, which senior administration officials said did not target Venezuela’s energy sector or broader economy. But the move stokes tensions between Washington and Caracas just as U.S. relations with Cuba, a longtime U.S. foe in Latin America and key ally to Venezuela, are set to be normalized.

Declaring any country a threat to national security is the first step in starting a U.S. sanctions program. The same process has been followed with countries such as Iran and Syria, U.S. officials said.