Venezuela's new pro-Nicolas Maduro legislative body will meet Saturday
US says Maduro requested phone talks but Trump won't until "democracy is restored"
US President Donald Trump would not rule out the possibility of a military intervention in Venezuela, he told reporters Friday.
“We have many options for Venezuela. And by the way, I am not going to rule out a military option,” Trump said following a meeting with US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at his New Jersey golf club.
“This is our neighbor,” he added. “You know, we are all over the world and we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away. Venezuela is not very far away and the people are suffering, and they are dying. We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary.”
On Friday evening, Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said the Defense Department has not been ordered to make any military movements related to Venezuela – but is prepared for that if need be.
Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino called Trump’s talk of possible military action a “crazy act.”
“As Minister of Defense and as a citizen I say this is a crazy act, an act of supreme extremism,” Padrino said via phone on state-owned television network VTV.
“There is an extremist elite in the US government,” he added, “and I really don’t know what is happening and what will happen in the world. If humanity will end. If planet Earth will end.”
The president of Venezuela’s new Constituent Assembly – the controversial body elected to rewrite the Venezuelan Constitution amid the country’s political crisis – fired off a series of tweets late Friday slamming Trump’s remarks as “cowardly, insolent and vile threats.”
Assembly president and former Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez added in her tweets that “insults and aggressions” against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro would be rejected by the “anti-imperialist people of Venezuela.”
The Trump administration slapped sanctions on Venezuela after a July 30 vote that allowed Maduro to replace the opposition-dominated National Assembly with a new 545-member Constituent Assembly filled with his supporters.
Protests have rocked the streets of Caracas and other Venezuelan cities, both before the vote and in response to the recent political moves.
More than 120 people have died in protest-linked incidents since April.
The United Nations’ human rights office said earlier this month that Venezuelan security forces have used excessive force and arbitrarily detained thousands of people.
“The United States condemns the actions of the Maduro dictatorship. Mr. Lopez and Mr. Ledezma are political prisoners being held illegally by the regime,” Trump said in a statement earlier this month, referencing Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma, two of Maduro’s top political opponents.
While Trump raised the specter of military intervention, his top national security aides have downplayed that possibility.
H.R. McMaster, Trump’s National Security Adviser, flatly told MSNBC earlier this month that military intervention from any outside source was not a possibility.
“No. I don’t think so,” McMaster said. “What’s really required is for everyone to have one voice about the need to protect the rights and the safety of the Venezuelan people.”
One outspoken Democratic congressman denounced Trump’s comments.
“Military force must be the last option, not the first. Provocative statements by @realDonaldTrump on North Korea and Venezuela are reckless,” said Rep. Ted Lieu.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza on Saturday said Trump’s comments threatened peace and stability in his country.
“The daring threats of President Donald Trump intend to drag Latin America and the Caribbean into a conflict that would permanently alter the stability, peace and security of our region,” Arreaza said at a press conference.
Arreaza added that “the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela once again warns the international community of the serious threats that are ever increasing.”
“The time has come for international organizations and multilateral forums in the region and in the world to reaffirm the validity of the norms of international law and to curb the most aggressive action of the US empire against the Venezuelan people in more than a hundred years.”
Arreaza closed by reiterating Maduro’s interest to have a conversation with Trump.
The White House said late Friday that Maduro requested a phone call with Trump. “President Trump will gladly speak with the leader of Venezuela as soon as democracy is restored in that country,” the White House responded in a statement.
Critics think Venezuela’s new legislative body, the Constituent Assembly, will rewrite the Constitution at Maduro’s behest.
CNN’s Mayra Cuevas contributed to this report.