In a new blow to already fraying ties between the US and Venezuela, one of its key oil supplier, President Hugo Chavez said on Sunday that he suspended cooperation with the Drug Enforcement Administration, because it was unnecessary and accused the US agency of spying on his government.

"The fears are baseless," State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said. "I think it's pretty clear to us that the motivation for this is not the accusation itself... The motivation is an effort to detract from the government's increasingly deficient record of cooperation."

Chavez said Venezuela would continue to work with international organisations to combat drug trafficking.

Next month, the State Department must, by law, judge if Venezuela has failed to cooperate in the drug war, a decision that could trigger a range of sanctions, including blocking cheap credit for businesses and counter-narcotics aid.

Fraying relations

Chavez's suspension decision "would obviously have an impact on deliberations concerning our annual decision-making process", Ereli said.

"I think it's pretty clear to us that the motivation for this is not the accusation itself... The motivation is an effort to detract from the government's increasingly deficient record of cooperation"

Adam Ereli,
State Department spokesman

Even before Sunday's decision, the top US diplomat said it would be difficult this year to certify Venezuela as cooperating in the drug war.

Venezuela, which Washington has sanctioned for failing to combat human trafficking, would then be blacklisted along with countries such as Myanmar.

Ereli said Venezuela had already this year severed military-to-military cooperation and failed to respond to US recommendations in March on how the countries could improve their joint fight against drug barons.

Losing out

"Failure to cooperate only benefits narco-traffickers," Ereli said.

Both countries had agreed until recently to work together in the fight, but cooperation has been strained by mistrust, corruption and the chilly relations between Caracas and Washington, foreign security officials say.

Venezuela is an important transport route for cocaine from neighbouring Colombia - the world's No.1 exporter of the drug - to Europe and the US.

Washington, a key client for Venezuelan oil, views Chavez as a threat to stability in the region while the South American nation's leader complains of US interference.