The U.S. has learned Venezuela's disputed president, Nicolas Maduro, was "ready" to leave the country amid protest violence and calls for his ouster -- until Russia convinced him to stay, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News on Tuesday night.
“He was ready to go,” Pompeo said on “Special Report.” “He was diverted by the Russians.”
He did not give any further specifics on when this apparently took place. Pompeo also noted he wanted Maduro, whom he called a “thug,” to get back on that plane.
The U.S. and about 50 other nations have taken the position that Maduro’s re-election last year was marred by fraud and that he is not the legitimate president of Venezuela, a once prosperous nation that has the world’s largest proven oil reserves.
The U.S. government said about 20,000 Cuban troops and agents have been working in Venezuela to prop up Maduro's government, a figure disputed by Cuba.
Pompeo said the Cubans and Russians have been in direct opposition of Venezuela’s duly elected leader, Juan Guaido.
He noted that the 14 countries supporting Maduro were on the wrong side of history, and that rule of law and democracy must be restored.
“It’s time for Maduro to leave … and rebuild this once great economy,” Pompeo told Bret Brier.
The Trump administration declared quick and enthusiastic support Tuesday for the Venezuelan opposition effort to spark a military uprising against embattled Maduro, hoping for decisive action in the political crisis that has engulfed the South American nation.
In January, the administration took the unusual step of recognizing Guaido, the opposition leader of the National Assembly, as interim president. It also imposed punishing sanctions on the country’s oil sector, deepening the country’s economic crisis.
Despite these and other measures, Maduro, the hand-picked successor to President Hugo Chavez, has retained his hold on the country and the support of the security services.
That support had seemed to crack Tuesday with the launch of what the opposition was calling “Operation Freedom,” which began with the early-morning release of a short video of Guaido alongside a few dozen national guardsmen urging people to “take to the streets.”
Pompeo said the U.S. was anticipating this day sooner or later.
“We have planned out lots of options,” Pompeo said about how the U.S. would perhaps intervene, but he refused to go into detail.
Fox News' Bret Baier and The Associated Press contributed to this report.