President: Military response possible to Venezuela’s growing political crisis

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP speaks after meeting Friday with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Friday he wouldn’t rule out military action against Venezuela in response to the country’s descent into political chaos following President Nicolas Maduro’s power grab.

Speaking to reporters at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club, Trump bemoaned the country’s growing humanitarian crisis and declared that all options remain on the table — including a potential military intervention.

“We have many options for Venezuela and by the way, I’m not going to rule out a military option,” Trump volunteered, adding, “A military operation and military option is certainly something that we could pursue.”

Trump’s comment mark a serious escalation in rhetoric for the U.S., which has up until now stressed a regional approach that encourages Latin American allies to escalate pressure on the Maduro regime. Hours before Trump’s comments, a senior administration official speaking on condition of anonymity stressed that approach while briefing reporters on Vice President Mike Pence’s upcoming trip to the region later this week.

The Trump administration has slapped a series of sanctions against Maduro and more than two dozen current and former Venezuelan officials in response to a crackdown on opposition leaders and the recent election of an assembly charged with rewriting the country’s constitution.

But even as the list of targeted individuals has grown, promised economic sanctions have yet to materialize amid an outcry by U.S. oil companies over the likelihood a potential ban on petroleum imports from Venezuela — the third-largest supplier to the U.S. — would hurt U.S. jobs and drive up gas costs.

Trump’s comments are sure to focus new attention on Pence’s upcoming six-day tour of the region, which will include stops in Cartagena, Colombia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago, Chile; and Panama City.

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