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Trump ‘won’t rule out military option’ against Venezuela

The Associated Press WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. President Donald Trump said Friday that he wouldn’t rule out military action against Venezuela in response to the country’s descent into political chaos following President Nicolas Maduro’s power grab.

Speaking to reporters at his Bedminster, N.J., golf club, Trump bemoaned the country’s growing humanitarian crisis and declared that all options remain on the table — including a potential military intervention.

“We have many options for Venezuela and by the way, I’m not going to rule out a military option,” Trump volunteered, adding, “A military operation and military option is certainly something that we could pursue.”

Trump’s comment marks a serious escalation in rhetoric for the United States, which has up until now stressed a regional approach that encourages Latin American allies to escalate pressure on the Maduro regime. Hours before Trump’s comments, a senior administration official speaking on condition of anonymity stressed that approach while briefing reporters on Vice President Mike Pence’s upcoming trip to the region later this week.

Venezuela’s defense minister called Trump’s talk of a military intervention an act of “craziness” and “supreme extremism.”

Gen. Vladimir Padrino, a close ally of Maduro, said, “With this extremist elite that’s in charge in the United States, who knows what will happen to the world?”

The White House later released a statement saying it had rejected a request from Maduro to speak by phone with Trump. The statement said, “Trump will gladly speak with the leader of Venezuela as soon as democracy is restored in that country.”

The Trump administration has slapped a series of sanctions against Maduro and more than two dozen current and former Venezuelan officials in response to a crackdown on opposition leaders and the recent election of a constitutional assembly charged with rewriting the country’s constitution.

But even as the list of targeted individuals has grown longer, promised economic sanctions have yet to materialize amid an outcry by U.S. oil companies over the likelihood that a potential ban on petroleum imports from Venezuela — the third-largest supplier to the United States — would hurt U.S. jobs and drive up gas costs.

Trump’s comments are sure to focus new attention on Pence’s upcoming six-day tour of the region, which will include stops in Cartagena, Colombia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago, Chile; and Panama City. Pence is set to arrive in Colombia on Sunday.Speech

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