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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Venezuela foreign minister slams new US travel ban as 'aggressive' and 'illegal'

It came hours after the White House announced a new executive order adding three new countries — Venezuela, North Korea and Chad — to a list from which travellers are banned

Venezuelan foreign minister Jorge Arreaza addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 25, 2017. Cia Pak / UN Photo via AP
Venezuelan foreign minister Jorge Arreaza addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 25, 2017. Cia Pak / UN Photo via AP

Venezuelan foreign minister Jorge Arreaza said the US's decision to add Venezuela to a list of countries from which some or all travellers are banned was “aggressive” and “illegal” in his speech to the UN General Assembly on Monday.

It came hours after the White House announced a new executive order adding three new countries — Venezuela, North Korea and Chad — to a list that already included Libya, Iran, Syria, Somalia and Yemen, while removing Sudan.

“We are obliged to denounce that our nation has been threatened by [US president] Donald Trump with use of force,” Mr Arreaza told the world body.

Echoing former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez's 2006 speech in which he said he detected a “smell of sulphur” at the UN General Assembly after an address by then US president George W Bush, Mr Arreaza said “it is still the case that this podium smells like sulphur”.

Mr Chavez cooled his rhetoric towards the United States once Barack Obama became US president in 2009, but with Mr Trump’s restrictions and sanctions on Venezuela, the country is making a detour in its approach to Washington.

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Mr Arreaza said the Trump administration “has imposed illegal economic sanctions to force undemocratic political changes” in Venezuela — the latest being the travel ban imposed on Monday which will prevent the country’s officials from visiting the US.

“Venezuela will always deal with the government of the USA with respect, but we will always defend ourselves from aggression,” the foreign minister said.

He denounced the US for being “the only country who used nuclear weapons against other country and the main violator of human rights, not only in its own territory but throughout the world”. He called Mr Trump “the world's emperor” and accused him of using his speech at the General Assembly “to call for war.”

Mr Trump’s new travel ban will go into effect on October 18. US officials stressed that valid visas would not be revoked as a result of the new order.

According to the latest order, the “entry into the United States of nationals of the following countries is hereby suspended and limited, as follows, subject to categorical exceptions and case‑by-case waivers”.

For Syria and North Korea, all entries are suspended while visa restrictions will apply to the other countries on the list. Student and exchange visas will still be granted in the case of Iran, while the ban suspends mostly government officials from Venezuela.

In the case of Chad, counterterrorism experts raised eyebrows given its close co-operation with the US against Al Qaeda and its affiliates in Africa. But the new order mentioned that “several terrorist groups are active within Chad or in the surrounding region, including elements of Boko Haram, ISIL-West Africa, and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb” as justification for adding it to the list.

If the countries that have relations with the US, such as Chad, Libya and Yemen, take appropriate measures to address the US's concerns then they could be removed from the list, according to the order.

Sudan was removed after taking such measures, according to a US official. Iraq was on the original first list in February but later removed despite lapses in document-authentication and intelligence sharing, according to US officials.

"Iraq maintains a close partnership with the United States”, said one official in a briefing explaining the new regulations.

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson said of the new executive order, “the president is carrying out his duty to protect the American people”, adding that “the state department will co-ordinate with other federal agencies to implement these measures in an orderly manner”.

Mr Trump is also preparing a new cap on refugees admissions that will be announced before October 1, US officials say.