U.S. national security adviser John Bolton and U.S. Secretary Wilbur Ross will speak at a conference on Venezuela in Peru next week as part of a campaign to force President Nicolas Maduro to relinquish power, a senior U.S. official said on Friday.
The Tuesday meeting will be a strong show of support for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido from the more than 50 countries that have recognised him as the rightful president of Venezuela, said the official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.
In his presentation, Ross will give attendees details on a post-Maduro reconstruction plan for Venezuela. “We plan to attend and have a big presence,” the official said.
Peru had proposed the meeting as a way to build support for early elections in Venezuela, and wanted Maduro’s allies such as Russia, China, Cuba, Bolivia and Turkey to take part.
But none of those countries are expected to attend, the U.S. official said.
Washington considers Maduro a dictator who stole last year’s election and has slapped a series of escalating sanctions on Venezuela to pressure him to step down. Maduro has refused and vows to resist what he describes as U.S. imperialism.
On Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump said he was considering a blockade of Venezuela. His administration has so far focused on diplomatic and economic pressure against Maduro while steering clear of any military action.
Asked about Trump’s comments on Thursday, the senior administration official declined to give details.
“I would take the president at his word and I would take his word very seriously,” the official said, noting the administration did not want to give away “the element of surprise.”
The official said Trump’s warning should have the effect of pushing Maduro to take ongoing talks with the opposition in Barbados more seriously. “He has a short window to find an exit strategy,” the official said.
Norway, which is mediating the Barbados talks, said on Friday that Maduro’s government and the opposition have reiterated their willingness to continue negotiating to find a solution.
Asked whether the White House would consider protecting Venezuelans in the United States from deportation – a measure known as “temporary protected status” – the official said the administration was committed to ensuring no Venezuelan at risk of persecution would be deported, regardless of whether the TPS programme is used.