WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump contradicted his own top advisers Friday by suggesting Russian President Vladimir Putin was not meddling in Venezuela.
"He is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela, other than he’d like to see something positive happen," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Friday. "I feel the same way."
His remarks came just days after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Russia of propping up the regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who is in the midst of a political showdown with opposition leader Juan Guaido. The Trump administration has pushed hard to oust Maduro in favor of Guaido, calling Guaido the legitimate leader of Venezuela.
Russia is a key Maduro ally, and the Kremlin has been sharply critical of the Trump administration's support for Guaido.
Venezuela's political crisis escalated sharply on Tuesday when Guaido called for a popular uprising and urged the military to abandon Maduro. But so far, there have not been large-scale defections, and Maduro's security forces have clashed with protesters.
Pompeo said on Tuesday that Maduro was ready to flee Venezuela after Guaido called for a popular uprising. But Maduro changed his mind after Russia persuaded him to stay, Pompeo said.
“He had an airplane on the tarmac, he was ready to leave this morning as we understand it, and the Russians indicated he should stay,” Pompeo told CNN on Tuesday evening.
The next day, Pompeo had a contentious phone call with his Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov about Venezuela.
Pompeo told Lavrov that Russia and Cuba's actions in were "destabilizing for Venezuela and for the U.S.-Russia bilateral relationship," according to a State Department readout of the conversation.
Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, has also slammed the Russians for sending military personnel and equipment to Venezuela amid the escalating crisis. Russia dispatched two military planes and an unspecified number of Russian military troops to Venezuela in March, according to the State Department.
"We are not going to see the Russians take over a country in the Western Hemisphere," Bolton said Wednesday in an interview with Fox News. He accused the Russians of working in concert with the Cuban government to bolster a teetering Maduro.
In Friday's call with Putin, Trump suggested they discussed a mutual desire to help the Venezuelan people, who are suffering amid an economic crisis and widespread shortages of food and medicine.
But according to Russia's readout of Friday's call, Putin suggested it was the U.S., not Moscow, that was interfering in Venezuela – by trying to install Guaido.
"The president of Russia underscored that only the Venezuelans themselves have the right to determine the future of their country," Putin's office said in a statement. " ... Attempts to change the government in Caracas by force undermine prospects for a political settlement of the crisis."
Pompeo and Bolton met with military officials, including Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, at the Pentagon on Friday to discuss the situation in Venezuela. Trump has said "all options" are on the table, including U.S. military intervention.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders declined to comment on that meeting.
"All options continue to be on the table. We're looking at a number of different fronts," she told reporters Friday. "I don't have any new announcements or change in direction. We continue to stand with the people of Venezuela, and the president is continuing to push for aid to be delivered to those people."
Sanders dismissed questions about whether Trump was contradicting Pompeo and Bolton's assessment of Russia's role in Venezuela.
"The president was relaying what President Putin said to him. That's it," she said.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump contradicts top aides by suggesting Putin not meddling in Venezuela