“We reject all the claims,” said Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, the day after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced that the diplomats were being expelled from his country.
Maduro, who rose to power this year after his predecessor, President Hugo Chavez, was sidelined by and later succumbed to cancer, has struggled in the face of crippling economic problems that include recent widespread power outages.
Venezuela accused Charges d’Affaires Kelly Keiderling, Elizabeth Hoffman and David Moo of meeting with opposition figures and having a role in a power outage that occurred while they were traveling in Bolivar state.
Psaki acknowledged that the three had been traveling in the state, but said the visit was “part of normal diplomatic engagement.”
"In accordance with the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations and on consular relations, the United States may take reciprocal action," she added. "We're still considering what actions we might take."
Still, Psaki said the State Department had not given up on its recent efforts to improve relations with Venezuela.
Some U.S. officials speculated at the time of Chavez’s death in March that the Maduro government might be more open to good relations, especially because the U.S. could help ease the nation's deepening economic problems.
But analysts say that Maduro's administration has decided instead to sharpen popular animosity toward the United States as a means of strengthening support for the government.
"President Maduro's expulsion of our embassy personnel continues a well-worn pattern of measures designed to shore up his weak political hand and distract Venezuelans from the serious problems they face at home," he said. "His use of our diplomatic personnel to score political points is unacceptable and should not go unanswered.”