U.S. Defends Diplomats Expelled From Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) -

The U.S. Embassy in Venezuela on Tuesday defended three diplomats expelled by President Nicolas Maduro, rejecting charges they were involved in espionage and accusations Washington is trying to destabilize the OPEC nation.

In the latest spat between the ideological foes, Maduro on Monday ordered out three U.S. diplomats including Kelly Keiderling, temporarily in charge of the mission.

He alleged they had been meeting with “right wing” opposition leaders and encouraging acts of sabotage against the South American nation’s electricity grid and economy.

The expulsions throw a wrench into cautious efforts this year to restore full diplomatic ties that were frayed for most of the 14-year rule of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.

The U.S. government was evaluating its response and may take reciprocal action in accordance with the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, a statement from the embassy said.

“We completely reject the Venezuelan government’s allegations of U.S. government involvement in any type of conspiracy to destabilize the Venezuelan government,” it added. “We likewise reject the specific claims against the three members of our embassy.”

In an address to the nation, Maduro repeated his accusations on Tuesday, saying the three Americans had been handing over money and stirring up plots in southeastern Bolivar state.

Maduro showed a video of the three in a special broadcast all local channels were obliged to show live.

To a backdrop of dramatic music, the video showed images of diplomatic vehicles, a flight manifest and the three diplomats entering and departing what appeared to be offices of pro-opposition groups in Bolivar.

The U.S. Embassy statement said the diplomats were in Bolivar state on entirely “normal” business. “We maintain regular contacts across the Venezuelan political spectrum.”