US orders some diplomats to leave Venezuela, citing security concerns

The State Department on Thursday ordered nonessential staff at the U.S. Embassy in Venezuela to leave the country, one day after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said he was giving diplomats 72 hours to exit.

Initially, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that since America doesn't consider Maduro the legitimate leader of Venezuela, he doesn't "have the legal authority to break diplomatic relations with the United States or to declare our diplomats persona non grata."

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However, the State Department said that staff and diplomats who are not essential to operations will leave the country for security reasons. The embassy in Caracas will remain open.

The move comes in the days after the Trump administration announced it recognizes Venezuela's opposition leader, Juan Gaido, as interim president.

Earlier Thursday, Maduro ordered all Venezuelan diplomats home from the U.S. and said it's closing its embassy. He said that if U.S. officials had any sense, they would pull out their own diplomats, rather than defy his order.

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The U.S. and Venezuela haven't exchanged ambassadors in nearly a decade, but they have maintained diplomatic staff.

Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday, in a recorded video sent to Venezuelans, referred to Maduro as "a dictator with no legitimate claim to power."

"He has never won the presidency in a free and fair election, and has maintained his grip on power by imprisoning anyone who dares to oppose him," Pence said in the video.

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Maduro, who started his second term as president on Jan. 11 after disputed elections, is facing increasing hostility from the international community. He has sought to shore up support from the armed forces by doling out key posts to top generals, including one as the head of the oil monopoly that is the source of virtually all of Venezuela's export earnings.

Pompeo on Thursday said the U.S. is ready to provide more than $20 million  in humanitarian aid to Venezuela.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.