Elliott Abrams, a conservative hawk who three decades ago was convicted of lying to Congress over the Iran-Contra affair, claimed the US would take “appropriate action” against Mr Maduro and in support of opposition leader, Juan Guaido, who in January declared himself the country’s “legitimate” president. Around 50 countries, including the US, UK and Canada, have recognised him as such.
Speaking to reporters at the state department as the US treasury announced new sanctions targeting Venezuelan officials linked to Mr Maduro, Mr Elliott said Washington was speaking to other countries about how to put more pressure on the Latin American nation’s government, Reuters said.
He denied the US was seeking to intervene militarily, despite Donald Trump’s repeated assertion that “all options are on the table”.
Mr Abrams comments came after Russia this week accused the US of deploying troops in Colombia and Puerto Rico ahead of a planned military operation.
“The United States is preparing a military invasion of an independent state,” Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian security council, was quoted as saying in an interview with the weekly Argumenty i Fakty, according to the news agency.
“The transfer of American special operations forces to Puerto Rico, the landing of US forces in Colombia and other facts indicate the Pentagon is reinforcing its troops in the region in order to use them in an operation to remove Maduro from power.”
Russia and China are among the major countries that still recognise Mr Maduro as president. On Thursday, at the UN Security Council, they blocked a measure proposed by the US calling for a fresh presidential election and the distribution of US aid in Venezuela.
Venezuela’s UN ambassador Samuel Moncada, told the world body the US was constantly threatening his country militarily. He claimed supporters of the Venezuelan opposition had violently tried to cross the border using trucks.
“It was an international incident that has been deliberately ignored. It constitutes hostile acts against our nation and a violation of the founding charter of the UN,” he said, according to Telesur.
Last weekend, several people were killed after Mr Maduro’s security forces prevented supporters of Mr Guaido taking US aid stockpiled in Colombia across the border. Mr Maduro has claimed the aid operation is part of a ploy to oust him, and his supporters point out the UN has increased its humanitarian aid distribution inside Venezuela.
Also on Friday, Mr Guaido, who travelled to Argentina, claimed that 600 members of the Venezuelan military had abandoned Mr Maduro. “We have spoken clearly to the Armed Forces of Venezuela. They have seen more than 600 officers in recent days switch to side with the Constitution,” he said. “There is a very clear process of transition to democracy.”
Mr Guaido did not immediately provide any evidence for his claim. What has been noticeable since he declared himself president in January, is that the vast bulk of senior military officers have not halted their support for Mr Maduro.