Trump, Putin Discuss Venezuela, Other Hotspots in Phone Call

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2019-05-03

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VOA's Nike Ching at the State Department, Carla Babb at the Pentagon, and Patsy Widakuswara at the White House contributed to this report.

WHITE HOUSE — U.S. President Donald Trump says he has had a very positive phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin about Venezuela and other issues that lasted more than one hour.

“He is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela. I feel the same way,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Friday afternoon.

Trump, speaking alongside Slovak Republic Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini, described his discussion with Putin on Venezuela as “very positive.”

Tension has grown in recent days between Washington and Moscow over the increasingly destabilizing events in Caracas. The Trump administration has accused the Russians of preventing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from giving up power and fleeing the country.

"This is our hemisphere," national security adviser John Bolton said Wednesday. "It's not where the Russians ought to be interfering."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in a phone call earlier this week, told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of "grave consequences" should there be further aggressive steps in Venezuela, interpreted as a warning to Washington not to intervene militarily.

Pompeo and Lavrov are scheduled to talk on the sidelines of an Arctic Council ministerial session in Finland next week, and Venezuela is almost certainly to be discussed.

"They will have an opportunity, obviously, to meet and review whatever topics they choose to," a senior State Department official told reporters on a conference call previewing Pompeo's trip.

The president's national security team, including Bolton, acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood and the commander of the U.S. Southern Command, Navy Adm. Craig Faller, met Friday in a secure Pentagon room that is reserved for top-level discussions of sensitive issues and military operations.

Defense officials said they discussed options on Venezuela.

"The president is going to do what's necessary," Sanders replied to a question from VOA about whether that meeting had moved the ball on U.S. military intervention in Venezuela.

She repeated that "all options continue to be on the table," something administration officials have stressed for weeks.

Trump issued a couple of tweets Friday afternoon about the call with Putin:

Shanahan told reporters that the meeting reviewed the situation in Venezuela and was to ensure there is alignment within the administration on the South American country.

The United States and most other Western countries no longer recognize Maduro as Venezuela's legitimate leader, having switched interim recognition to Juan Guaido, the president of Venezuela's democratically elected national assembly.

Also discussed was the possibility of a “nuclear deal of some kind” involving the United States and Russia, as well as possibly China.

“We’re talking about a nuclear agreement where we make less and they make less and maybe even where we get rid some of the tremendous firepower that we have right now,” explained Trump. “China, I’ve already spoken to them. They would very much like to be a part of that deal.”

Trump said he also discussed with Putin on Friday the Mueller Report into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“He actually sort of smiled when he said something to the effect that it started off as a mountain and it ended up being a mouse.”

Repeatedly asked if he told Putin not to meddle in the 2020 presidential election, Trump finally said: “We didn’t discuss that.”

Queried by VOA about what he could do to improve his relationship and communication with the news media, as Friday was being marked as World Press Freedom Day, Trump responded that he has a very good relationship with some reporters.

“Unfortunately, some of the press doesn’t cover me accurately,” Trump contended. “They go out of their way to cover me inaccurately. So, I don’t think that’s a free press, I think that’s a dishonest press. And I want to see a free press.”

Steve Herman is VOA's White House Bureau Chief.