As tensions between the United States and North Korea reach never-before-seen levels, President Donald Trump has pivoted his attention toward the crisis facing Venezuela, which has been gripped by widespread poverty and unrest under the socialist dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro.
“Venezuela is a mess, it is a very dangerous mess, and a very sad situation,” Trump told reporters during a press conference at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Friday. “We have many options for Venezuela, I’m not ruling out military options.”
On Thursday, Maduro ordered his foreign minister to build a diplomatic bridge with Washington, hoping to schedule “in person” talks with Trump in September. Maduro hopes to visit New York for the United Nations General Assembly meeting that month, but current U.S. Treasury sanctions prohibit from entering the United States for any reason.
Trump’s remarks came shortly after a meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster.
“This is our neighbor,” Trump said. “Venezuela is not far away. The people are suffering and they are dying, we have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary.” When asked for further details, Trump simply replied: “We don’t talk about it.”
Venezulan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino was incredulous about Trump’s military threats, which he labeled “an act of craziness.”
But according to the White House, Maduro attempted to arrange a phone call with Trump on Friday, potentially signaling that his regime is ready to come to the table to prevent hostilities. The White House refused to take his call until democracy was restored to Venezuela.
Venezuela has long accused the United States of planning an impending military invasion, but the Pentagon waved away the rumors as “baseless,” noting that the U.S. military will only act to protect U.S. citizens and America’s national interests.