updated 4/18/2005 2:33:08 PM ET 2005-04-18T18:33:08

Venezuela plans to sell at least two Citgo Petroleum Corp. refineries in the United States and has begun receiving offers from interested buyers, the oil minister said.

Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez did not specify which of Citgo's eight refineries in the United States he was referring to in his comments, reported Monday in the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal.

He made clear, however, that selling the refineries doesn't mean Venezuela is looking to sell the entirety of its Citgo assets, which also include about 13,000 service stations across the United States.

"It's two refineries in particular that we are looking to sell and we're taking offers," Ramirez was quoted as saying in his interview Sunday on the Venezuelan channel Televen. He also heads the state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., which owns Citgo.

The Houston-based Citgo says it supplies 8 percent to 10 percent of gasoline consumed in the United States and has about 4,000 employees.

"We will continue with Citgo and we will keep our presence in the U.S. market, which is one of our top markets," Ramirez said. "What is clear is there are at least two refineries there that don't interest us at all because they produce systematic losses, because they don't refine our oil."

He said some offers had been received from companies and that these were being considered confidentially.

Ramirez and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez have repeatedly argued that Venezuela's various contracts with refineries in the United States produce losses for Venezuela and constitute a subsidy for the U.S. economy.

The Chavez government has made it clear it intends to review all Citgo assets and may sell part.

Chavez said last month that Venezuela was searching for partners to share in the Citgo business because it had not been lucrative enough for his country under current agreements.

"We want to sell part of Citgo and keep perhaps 60 percent, 50, 40, depending on the partners we find," Chavez said during a March 29 summit.

Chavez has said he wants to diversify the client list for Venezuela's oil, and in recent months he has struck a series of energy accords with neighboring countries, as well as China and Spain.

Chavez, a vehement critic of U.S. President George W. Bush's policies, has pledged to keep selling oil to the United States, Venezuela's top client, but has warned the U.S. government that any attack against Venezuela would lead to an immediate halt in oil sales.

Relations have grown tense as the U.S. government has expressed concerns about the health of democracy under the populist former paratrooper, a close ally of Fidel Castro. But officials in Washington have denied any attempt to act against Chavez.

Venezuela is the world's fifth largest oil exporter and a top crude supplier to the United States.

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