US pushes back on Venezuela's order to slash embassy staff

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Caracas, March 4: The United States has pushed back against Venezuela's demand for a dramatic cut in the American diplomatic mission in Caracas.

Venezuela on Monday gave the US two weeks to come up with a plan to slash the size of its embassy from around 100 diplomats to 17.

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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro had said over the weekend that he would seek parity between the number of US diplomats in his country and Venezuelans in the United States.

"They have 100 functionaries here. We have 17 there," he said.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf on Tuesday said, Venezuela was wrong about the number of diplomats it has working in the US.

"The numbers the Venezuelan government has offered regarding the size of its mission in the United States dramatically understates the number of Venezuelan diplomats," she said.

In addition to its embassy in Washington, Venezuela has eight consulates in the United States.

A roster of Venezuelan Embassy staff on the State Department website lists 19 diplomats in Washington and about two dozen in the other offices around the country.

Harf said no American diplomats had been ordered to leave Venezuela.

The US was only ordered to submit a plan within 15 days on how it would reduce staffing at the embassy in Caracas, she said.

Harf said the US planned to respond to Venezuela, but she wouldn't say if it would agree to reduce its diplomatic numbers.

The US and this socialist-governed South American country have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010.

Maduro regularly rails against the US, accusing it of meddling in his country's affairs, and he has taken to leading weekly chants of "Gringo, go home!"  on Tuesday.

Venezuela published regulations removing the US from a list of countries whose citizens can travel  without obtaining a visa.

It's unclear how Americans will apply for their newly required tourist visas.

PTI

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