Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido met Wednesday with President Donald Trump at the White House as Guaido tries to rekindle his campaign to depose Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
In a statement announcing Guaido’s visit, the White House said, “We will continue to work with our partners in the region to confront the illegitimate dictatorship in Venezuela, and will stand alongside the Venezuelan people to ensure a future that is democratic and prosperous.”
Guaido’s visit to Washington followed visits with European and Canadian leaders, parts of his attempt to revive his campaign after an unsuccessful uprising against Maduro, who was re-elected to a second term in 2018.
The United States and other countries blame Maduro's socialist policies for a political and economic crisis threatening regional stability, while recognizing Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate interim leader. Guaido was a guest at Trump's State of the Union speech in Washington on Tuesday night and received a standing ovation.
National security issue
Ahead of the meeting between Trump and Guaido, a senior Trump administration official told reporters Venezuela was a national security priority "in the sense of the destabilizing effect that it has on its neighbors." The official said the country was responsible for "harboring narco-traffickers" and "narco-terrorists," adding that Venezuela had become a primary point of narcotics trafficking to Central America, Mexico, and therefore the United States.
The official also said the U.S. was using “all of the tools in our box available” to respond.
Separately, the U.S. warned Maduro not to interfere with Guaido's return to Venezuela, saying any harm caused to Guaido would have "very significant consequences."
Earlier, the Venezuelan government accused Trump of "violent threats" after he said during his speech that Maduro's "grip of tyranny would be smashed and broken."
Maduro called for direct talks with the U.S. recently, describing them as a “win-win.” He also suggested U.S. oil companies could benefit financially if the U.S. lifted sanctions against Venezuela and its state oil company, PDVSA.
Lavrov, Maduro to meet
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet Friday with Maduro in Caracas in a show of support for the socialist leader.
Russia has criticized the U.S. sanctions as illegal and harmful, while the Guaido-led opposition has urged Washington to increase pressure on Moscow for supporting Venezuela diplomatically, economically and militarily.
When asked if U.S. sanctions against the Russian oil company, Rosneft, a key ally of PDVSA, were being considered, the official said, “Everything is an option as regards creating pressure, whether it’s toward Russian entities that are supporting Maduro or others. So, absolutely, that is and remains on the table.”
Guaido declared himself interim president eight months after Maduro won his second term.