WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump is still committed to a pressure campaign to force Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to step aside to make way for opposition leader Juan Guaido, Washington's envoy for Venezuela said on Tuesday.
The campaign has failed to dislodge Maduro, who has the support of Russia and China. Arguing that Maduro's 2018 re-election was illegitimate, Guaido invoked Venezuela's constitution in January to declare himself interim president with backing from the United States and other Western countries.
Elliott Abrams, U.S. special representative for Venezuela, brushed aside questions over whether Washington had lost interest amid other pressing foreign policy issues such as tensions with Iran and China trade talks.
He also firmly rejected the possibility that Maduro could be part of a unity government in Venezuela. "It is hard to see how he is part of the solution or could be part of a transition government," Abrams told reporters.
Citing examples that Venezuela remained a priority for the administration, Abrams said Trump raised the topic with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during their June 20 meeting. Vice President Mike Pence also traveled to Miami to help send off the U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort on a medical mission to South America to help with displaced Venezuelans.
"It is not a sign of uninterest," said Abrams. "The notion that there is at the highest levels of the government a diminution of interest is just simply false."
Without elaborating, Abrams said the number of countries which have announced their support for Guaido will soon grow from a current 54 nations.
"There will be a change in that number," he said.
Abrams said he hoped to meet with Manuel Cristopher, a Venezuelan general who turned against Maduro, who is now in the United States.
"He is in the U.S. and he is a free man. I would like to talk to him myself, and I assume other U.S. officials would like to because he quite obviously ... has a lot of interesting things to say about the Maduro regime and about life in
Venezuela," Abrams said.
Abrams said the administration "did not bring" Cristopher to the United States, but added: "We're happy he is here, makes it easier to have more conversations with him."
Maduro has accused Cristopher, who was the head of the South American country's Sebin intelligence service, of conspiring to help Guaido's uprising by releasing opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who was under a house arrest enforced by Sebin.