U.S. Rejects Caracas’s Claim It Breached Venezuelan Airspace

Fabiola Zerpa

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. military rejected Venezuela’s claim that a U.S. intelligence aircraft flew over the South American nation’s airspace on Friday, saying the American jet was over international waters and had been “aggressively shadowed.”

The U.S. Southern Command said Sunday on Twitter that the U.S. EP-3 “was performing a multi-nationally recognized & approved” mission when shadowed “at an unsafe distance” by a Venezuelan SU-30 Flanker, “jeopardizing the crew & aircraft.” Video of the incident was attached.

In a second tweet the U.S. said the action “demonstrates Russia’s irresponsible military support” of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government. The Sukhoi SU-30 is a twin-engine Russian fighter aircraft.

Sunday’s comments were the first U.S. response to claims by officials with Maduro’s defense department that the U.S. had engaged in “a clear provocation” and acted in violation of international treaties.

The competing descriptions may further roil Washington-Caracas relations at a time Secretary of State Michael Pompeo is visiting Latin America, and as a summit of so-called anti-imperialist countries is held in Venezuela’s capital.

Venezuelan defense officials sad the U.S. aircraft entered local airspace over the Caribbean in a one-hour flight in breach of international treaties, until it was pursued by the Venezuelan air force.

The flight created a safety risk for commercial aircraft in the vicinity of Simon Bolivar International Airport in Maiquetia, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said on Twitter.

Venezuela identified the U.S. plane as an EP-3E Aries II, which is a reconnaissance version of the P-3 Orion produced by Lockheed Martin Corp.

Maduro’s government on Saturday started a two-day summit of the Non Aligned Movement, with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Russia’s deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in attendance. Pompeo has visited Argentina and Ecuador in the past few days and is traveling Sunday to Mexico and Honduras.

The U.S. has been trying to coalesce support around National Assembly leader Juan Guaido since the body declared him Venezuela’s interim president in late January. More than 50 countries now support Guaido, and the U.S. regularly announces new sanctions against Maduro and his associates.

To contact the reporter on this story: Fabiola Zerpa in Caracas Office at fzerpa@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Juan Pablo Spinetto at jspinetto@bloomberg.net, Ros Krasny, Ian Fisher

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