Robert HARNEIS -TDO- (FRANCE)-The Panama Canal will continue authorizing vessels coming from Venezuela provided they present the necessary paperwork, the waterway’s chief has said, meaning a new round of U.S. sanctions on the South American nation should not make a difference to canal traffic.

President Donald Trump’s administration has issued an executive order freezing all Venezuelan government assets in the United States. Shortly after, U.S. officials emphasised threats against companies that do business with Venezuela.

The measure did not explicitly place sanctions on non-U.S. firms linked to Venezuela. But it threatened to freeze the U.S. assets of any person or company determined to have “materially assisted” President Nicolas Maduro’s government.

Panama Canal Authority chief Jorge Quijano told reporters that the waterway authorities should not submit to pressure from third countries on the issue of whether or not vessels could use the canal, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

“We are signatories to a treaty of neutrality, also signed by the United States,” he said. “We have to continue with that commitment as long as they follow the rules of the game, and the rules of the game are that it’s an innocent passage.”

Panama earlier this year withdrew its flag from dozens of vessels linked to Iran and Syria. One of the tankers, the Grace 1, was later seized in Gibraltar’s waters on suspicion of violating sanctions, raising tensions in the Gulf, where Iran detained a UK-flagged ship in retaliation.

Panama’s Maritime Authority last month said the country will continue de-flagging vessels that violate sanctions and international legislation, but it has so far continued to permit passage through the canal on the basis of neutrality.

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