Sending US military to Venezuela ‘an option’, says Trump

US president turns down Maduro meeting ‘because we’re very far along in the process’

January 28th, 2019: Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro rejected an international ultimatum to call elections within eight days, while opposition leader Juan Guaido called Maduro's May election a "fraud" and says elections should be free and fair. Video: Enda O'Dowd

 

US president Donald Trump said that sending the military to Venezuela was “an option” and that he had turned down president Nicolas Maduro’s request for a meeting.

“Certainly it’s something that’s on the . . . it’s an option,” Mr Trump said in an interview broadcast on Sunday on the CBS Face the Nation program. “Well he has requested a meeting and I’ve turned it down because we’re very far along in the process.”

He said: “So, I think the process is playing out - very, very big tremendous protests.”

Tens of thousands of people have thronged the streets to protest the Maduro government, wearing the yellow, red and blue of the Venezuelan flag.

As domestic and international pressure mounts on Maduro to step down, a senior air force general disavowed him in a video that circulated earlier on Saturday, expressing his allegiance to parliament head and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido.

Mr Maduro proposed an early parliamentary election on Saturday, seeking to shore up his crumbling rule.

Meanwhile, Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the country will acknowledge Mr Guaido as interim president if Mr Maduro does not respond to the European Union’s call for a free and fair presidential election.

Mr Kurz’s tweet on Sunday echoed a statement by France’s European affairs minister Nathalie Loiseau, who dismissed Mr Maduro’s election proposal as a “farce”.

“I just had a very good phone call with President @jguaido,” Mr Kurz tweeted. “He has our full support to restore democracy in Venezuela.” Venezuelans had suffered too long from mismanagement and a disregard for the rule of law under Mr Maduro, he said.Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Earlier, Turkey’s foreign minister said countries which have recognised Mr Guaido were fuelling Venezuela’s troubles and punishing millions of its people.

Turkey has backed Mr Maduro in contrast with Nato allies the United States and Canada, and several right-leaning Latin American countries which have recognised Mr Guaido’s move to declare himself interim leader.

Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan, who has strengthened economic and political ties with Caracas, called Mr Maduro last month to urge him to stand tall against what he described as “anti-democratic developments”.

Foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Sunday the countries which were supporting Mr Guaido should instead have worked for negotiations to resolve Venezuela’s crisis.

“There is a problem in a country, there is a spark that can turn into a fire at any moment. In this case, they should have contributed to the solution of the problem through dialogue,” Mr Cavusoglu told reporters in Istanbul.

“But is that how they handled things? No. On the contrary, the event was fuelled from the outside. The people of Venezuela are being punished by such approach,” he said.

Mr Cavusoglu said Turkey had tried to initiate talks on Venezuela last year between Washington and Latin American countries. “But today, none of the countries that have taken these steps against Venezuela has sought dialogue.”

Disagreement over Venezuela could become another serious point of friction between Washington and Ankara, which are also divided over policy in Syria, Iran sanctions and Turkey’s plans to buy Russian missile defence system.

On Friday Marshall Billingslea, US assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the Treasury, held talks with Turkish officials about sanctions on Venezuela and Iran.

A senior US official said last week Washington was looking at Turkey’s commercial activities with Venezuela and would take action “if we assess a violation of our sanctions”.

Turkish officials say Ankara’s trade is in accordance with international laws and regulations.

In his remarks on Sunday Mr Cavusoglu also reiterated Turkish criticism of what Ankara sees as a weak international response to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul four months ago.

“Recently Western countries - you know they are very sensitive about human rights, trying to teach everyone about human rights - are silent,” he said suggesting they were more interested in protecting commercial ties with Riyadh.

“They are making deals and selling arms,” Mr Cavusoglu said. –Reuters