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U.S. President Donald Trump says a military option against Venezuela is on the table, describing the situation there as a “dangerous mess.”
“We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary,” Trump told reporters at his golf resort in New Jersey.
Trump said he’s “not going to rule out” a military option and added it’s “certainly something that we could pursue.” He said the people in Venezuela are “suffering and they are dying.”
“We have troops all over the world in places that are very far away. Venezuela is not very far away,” he said.
The Pentagon said the U.S. military was ready to support efforts to protect U.S. citizens and America’s national interests abroad. Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright said it is the job of the Defense Department to conduct contingency planning for possible military actions all around the world and to offer those options to the president.
However, a senior U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity told the Reuters news agency the Pentagon is unaware of any coming military action in Venezuela.
Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also said Congress was unlikely to support such a move.
“Congress obviously isn’t authorizing war in Venezuela,” he said in a statement. “Nicolas Maduro is a horrible human being, but Congress doesn’t vote to spill Nebraskans’ blood based on who the Executive lashes out at today.”
Late Friday, Venezuela Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino told state television the U.S. president's comments were "an act of craziness."
Venezuela’s foreign ministry is expected to issue a statement Saturday responding to Trump’s comment that “a possible military option” was under consideration for the crisis-racked nation, according to Reuters.
Trump said the crisis in Venezuela was one of the topics discussed during talks Friday in New Jersey with his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.
Also Friday, the White House said Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro had requested a phone call with Trump.
“President Trump will gladly speak with the leader of Venezuela as soon as democracy is restored in that country,” a White House statement said. The statement said that since the start of his administration, Trump has asked that Maduro respect Venezuela’s constitution but says Maduro has “refused to heed this call” and instead chosen the “path of dictatorship.”
Venezuela's economy has been troubled since oil prices collapsed in 2014, creating severe shortages of consumer goods, including medication, and pushing inflation to triple-digit levels.
Trump's comments come two days after his administration imposed new sanctions on Venezuela, targeting members of the new all-powerful legislative body.
The Trump administration has been critical of Maduro's moves to consolidate power, describing him as a "dictator." It has also called the recent election in Venezuela of a new constituent assembly as "illegitimate."
In imposing the sanctions, the administration also cited human rights violations and the undermining of the country's democracy as the political and financial crisis escalates.
Credit Suisse bank banned the trading and use of Venezuelan bonds Thursday, citing "recent developments and the political climate" in the country.
Venezuela is facing mounting international criticism over Maduro's crackdown on opponents and moves to consolidate power, including the selection of the all-powerful assembly.
Near-daily protests in the country have led to the deaths of more than 120 people.