By JILL COLVIN
CARTAGENA, Colombia (AP) — Vice President Mike Pence, traveling Sunday in Colombia, tried to strike a balance between Latin American opposition to U.S. military intervention in neighboring Venezuela, and President Donald Trump’s assertion that military action is an option.
During a news conference, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos said he told Pence the U.S. must not even consider military action in response to Venezuela’s crisis. The two countries are important allies, Santos said.
“But since friends have to tell each other the truth, I have told Vice President Pence that the possibility of a military intervention shouldn’t even be considered, neither in Colombia nor in Latin America,” Santos said. “America is a continent of peace. It is the land of peace. Let us preserve it as such.”
Pence did not directly rule out the idea of U.S. military action. Instead, he emphasized that the U.S. will work together with many nations in their “neighborhood” to pressure President Nicolas Maduro so that Venezuela’s democracy can be restored.
Pence said several times, “but the president sent me here” to build on that partnership. He said, “As President Trump said a few days ago, we have lots of options for Venezuela.”
The vice president railed against Venezuela’s descent into crisis, saying, “the United States will not stand by” as democracy in the country “crumbles.”
Trump shocked many on Friday when he said he would not rule out a “military option” when it comes to dealing with Venezuelan President Nicol—s Maduro’s attempts to consolidate power. The United States accuses Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of a power grab that has sparked deadly protests and condemnation across the region.
Pence says he’s confident they can find a peaceful solution, but did not explicitly rule out a military option.
Pence and his wife, Karen, were greeted by a military honor guard on the tarmac at Rafael Nunez International Airport, where they were greeted by the Colombian minister of foreign affairs, the U.S. ambassador to Colombia and the Colombian ambassador to the U.S., among other officials. Afterward, Pence met briefly with Santos at Casa de Huespedes Ilustres, telling him that Trump sends greetings and thanks for Santos’ hospitality.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Trump, by raising the prospect of possible military action, was trying “to give the Venezuelan people hope and opportunity to create a situation where democracy can be restored.” Pompeo told “Fox News Sunday” that Venezuela “could very much become a risk” to the U.S. if it descended into further chaos.
Yet a Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee who calls himself “a pretty hawkish guy” expressed skepticism about the idea of American troops in Caracas.
“I have no idea why we would use military force in Venezuela. I’m open-minded to a reason, but at the end of the day, our military should be deployed when there’s a national security interest that can be articulated to the American people,” South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham told “‘Fox News Sunday,” adding: “I don’t see one in Venezuela in terms of the military force.”
Trump’s national security adviser said the Trump administration wants to get a handle on the current situation under Maduro’s embattled government and “understand better how this crisis might evolve.”
“When you look at contingencies, when you look at what if — what if the suffering of the Venezuelan people increases by orders of magnitude — what more can we do with our partners in the region to protect the Venezuelan people and prevent an even greater humanitarian catastrophe?” McMaster told ABC’s “This Week.”
“The president never takes options off the table in any of these situations and what we owe him are options,” he said.
McMaster said the U.S. would “continue a series of actions against the Maduro regime which aim to strengthen the opposition and to reach out to those who are members of this oppressive regime to tell them it’s time to reconsider your actions and your support for this dictator.”
The U.S. has imposed sanctions against Maduro and more than two dozen current and former officials in response to a crackdown on opposition leaders and the recent election of a pro-government assembly given the job of rewriting the country’s constitution.
Venezuela’s chief opposition coalition issued a restrained criticism of Trump’s talk of using a “military option.” The coalition rejected “the use of force or threats of applying the same in Venezuela on the part of any country.” But the coalition’s statement didn’t directly mention Trump’s remarks.
Pence has other stops scheduled this week in Argentina, Chile and Panama, giving speeches and meeting with leaders. He will tour the newly expanded Panama Canal.
Reach Jill Colvin on Twitter at http://twitter.com/colvinj
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