By Christopher Toothaker
Monday, February 18, 2008
CARACAS, Venezuela, Feb. 17 -- President Hugo Chavez sent a soothing message to American motorists on Sunday, saying Venezuela is not preparing to cut off oil shipments to the United States.
The socialist leader rattled oil markets last Sunday when he threatened to halt shipments to the United States in retaliation for Exxon Mobil's success in persuading U.S. and European courts to freeze Venezuelan assets.
"We don't have plans to stop sending oil to the United States," Chavez said Sunday during a visit to heavy-oil projects in Venezuela's petroleum-rich Orinoco River basin that were nationalized last year.
But he added that Venezuela could cut off supplies to the United States if Washington "attacks Venezuela or tries to harm us."
Chavez has repeatedly warned against a possible U.S. invasion he says Washington would use to seize control of Venezuela's oil reserves.
U.S. officials have denied any such plan exists.