“He is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela, other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela, and I feel the same way. We want to get some humanitarian aid. Right now people are starving,” Trump told reporters on Friday.
Trump’s reference to Russia’s hands-off approach towards Venezuela stands in contrast to insistence by his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Russia is part of the problem in Caracas. Pompeo claimed earlier last week that President Nicolás Maduro was about to flee Venezuela until Russia persuaded him to stay.
In its description of the Trump-Putin conversation, the Kremlin said Putin stressed the need to respect Venezuelans’ right to determine their own future. He told Trump that outside interference in internal affairs and attempts at forceful regime change in Caracas undermine the prospects for a political settlement of the crisis.
Trump’s statement came shortly after acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and other senior officials, including his National Security Adviser John Bolton, reviewed options following a failed effort earlier in the week by Venezuelan opposition leaders to fuel an uprising.
Bolton signaled support last week for military intervention in Venezuela to oust embattled Maduro, a move that would pose a challenge for Trump, who has so far indicated a preference for and campaigned on scaling down existing military conflicts and avoiding new ones, according to local press reports.
While Trump has also emphasized that all options are on the table for Venezuela, Bolton has become the public face of any military campaign. On Friday, Bolton met with Pompeo and Shanahan at the Pentagon to discuss the situation in the Latin American nation.
“We want as our principle objective the peaceful transfer of power, but I will say again as the president has said from the outset … all options are on the table,” Bolton told reporters outside the White House on Tuesday when the street protests were underway.
A day later, Pompeo further told Fox Business Network that if military action is required, “that’s what the United States will do.”
Shanahan told reporters on Friday that he, Bolton and Pompeo were briefed that day by US Southern Command chief Adm. Craig Faller on his observations in the region.
“And then we went through a number of the … options that we have,” Shanahan said.
He, however, declined to provide details and gave no indication they made decisions to take any military action.
“We have a comprehensive set of options tailored to certain conditions, and I’m just going to leave it at that,” he said. Pressed to say whether the options include direct military intervention, he said, “I’ll leave that to your imagination. All options are on the table.”
The Friday session highlighted Trump administration’s effort to suggest the possibility of a military action, intending to increase public pressure on Maduro, though local press reports indicate that there appears to be little likelihood of direct US military intervention.
US claims Russia, China, Iran involved in Venezuela
Asked whether Venezuela poses a national security threat to the US that would justify using a military force, Shanahan then claimed that Russia, China and Iran are involved in Venezuela.
He then added, “Right now it’s about Maduro and his illegitimate regime, and Guaidó and making sure that the people of Venezuela have the environment and the conditions to correct for all these humanitarian shortcomings.”
Veteran Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina also wrote on Twitter, “Where is our aircraft carrier?” Asked to comment on that suggestion, Shanahan told reporters, “All (options) would include all.”
Reacting to the failed US-backed coup in Venezuela, Pompeo told Fox News on Thursday: “The military didn’t fracture in the way that we would hope, but it’s just a matter of time.”
“It’s the case that Maduro may rule for a little while longer, but he’s not going to govern. Structurally, there’s no way he stays in power. It’s time for him to leave, and we need the Cubans and the Russians to follow him out the door.”
Also attending the Faller briefing were Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.