Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had strict words on Sunday for Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov regarding Venezuela – a day before the two are scheduled to meet to discuss, among other things, the continuing political crisis in the South American nation.
“I’m going to tell him the same thing the president told the world: that every country must get out, including the Russians,” Pompeo said during an interview on “Fox News Sunday.” “That’s what I’ll tell him. We don’t want anyone messing around with Venezuela.
Pompeo added: We want [Venezuela] to be an autonomous, independent sovereign state, with democratic elected officials. This is what we desire for the Venezuelan people.”
The secretary of state’s comments come on the day of a planned meeting in Moscow between Lavrov and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza – and less than 24 hours before Pompeo and Lavrov are scheduled to meet in Finland on the sidelines of an Arctic Council session.
Russia supports disputed Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, while the United States – and 53 other countries -- regards opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country's interim president. Washington and Moscow accuse each other of interfering in Venezuela's internal affairs, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has raised the prospect of U.S. military intervention.
Pompeo last week said that Maduro was ready to step down from power amid an uprising led by Guaidó until Russia convinced him to stay in office.
“He was ready to go,” Pompeo said on Fox News’ “Special Report.” “He was diverted by the Russians.”
The secretary of state did not elaborate on how or why the alleged call from the Russians took place.
The Trump administration on Friday leveled pointed but vague threats of a military response to the Venezuelan political crisis.
In an interview with a small group of reporters Friday, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Navy Adm. Craig Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, flew to Washington to meet with him and other senior officials, including Pompeo and John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser.
The session highlighted the administration's effort to suggest the possibility of military action, perhaps as a way of increasing public pressure on Maduro, although there appears to be little likelihood of direct U.S. military intervention.
They reviewed and refined military planning and options for responding to the crisis, Shanahan said. He 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."
Trump, meanwhile, has backed off his own threats of using U.S. force to remove Maduro – saying on Friday, following his call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, that the two world leaders share the goal of a peaceful end to the crisis.
"He is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela, other than he'd like to see something positive happen for Venezuela," Trump said. "And I feel the same way. We want to get some humanitarian aid. Right now people are starving."
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.