Trump, Maduro confirm 'secret' Venezuela-US talks amid increased pressure on socialist regime

President Trump and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro both confirmed that there have been “secret” discussions between the two nations for months now even as the U.S. ramped up economic sanctions against the socialist regime.

Maduro said Tuesday that talks had long been underway between high officials in his government and the U.S. administration, while Trump said his government is talking to “various representatives” of the Venezuelan government.

“We’ve had secret meetings in secret places with secret people that nobody knows,” Maduro said, noting that the talks had been carried out under his “direct” authorization. “Sure there’s been contact and we’ll continue having contact.”

“We’ve had secret meetings in secret places with secret people that nobody knows. Sure there’s been contact and we’ll continue having contact.”

— Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro

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The U.S. has reportedly made secret contact with socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello as Maduro’s inner circles began seeking guarantees that they won’t be subjected to prosecution for their alleged crimes and abuses if they cede to growing demands to remove him from power.

Cabello refused to divulge any details of the meeting during a press conference on Monday and even likened it to “a lie, a manipulation,” though he later said he welcomed discussions with anyone as long as Maduro approves them.

Trump didn’t confirm whether the contact was specifically made with Cabello, only that there are discussions with Venezuelan officials.

“We’re talking to various representatives of Venezuela,” Trump said. “I don’t want to say who, but we are talking at a very high level.”

“We’re talking to various representatives of Venezuela. I don’t want to say who, but we are talking at a very high level.”

— President Trump

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Maduro said Tuesday that he’s prepared to meet with Trump to normalize relations between the two countries, though he made the same offer before.

The U.S. has stated that it no longer sees Maduro as a legitimate ruler of the country and instead endorsed opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the rightful leader of the country.

But despite the support from Western countries, Maduro continues to hold power. This month, he suspended talks sponsored by Norway between the opposition and government.

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The U.N. estimates that at least 4 million Venezuelans have left their country because of hyperinflation and severe shortages of food and medicine.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.