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World

Trump Vows To Keep Pressure On Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Russia has to get out of Venezuela. That's the message President Trump is sending today after a Russian military contingent arrived in the country, raising the stakes in this conflict and complicating U.S. policy. The U.S. is trying to pressure President Nicolas Maduro to step aside. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The Trump administration has joined dozens of other countries in recognizing National Assembly president Juan Guaido as Venezuela's interim president, hoping he can lead the country to new elections. Guaido's wife was at the White House today when President Trump dropped in and spoke briefly to reporters, vowing to keep up the pressure.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, they've got a lot of pressure right now. They have no money. They have no oil. They have no nothing. They got plenty of pressure right now. So we'll see. They have no electricity. And other than military, you can't get any more pressure than they have.

KELEMEN: Asked about possible military action, Trump says all options are open.

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TRUMP: You know, we're fighting all over the world for countries. We're 5,000, 6,000, 7,000 miles away. They never did anything with respect to Venezuela. Past administrations allowed this to happen. I've inherited a mess.

KELEMEN: As for the two Russian planes carrying troops and equipment to Venezuela, Trump says his administration has made clear to Moscow they have to get out.

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TRUMP: They know very well. They know very well.

KELEMEN: Russia's deputy U.N. ambassador writes in a tweet it's not up to the U.S. to decide the actions and fate of other countries. It's only up to the people of Venezuela and its, quote, "legitimate president, Nicolas Maduro," adding #HandsOffVenezuela. Russia has accused the U.S. of promoting a coup in Venezuela.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Mike Pompeo wants to destabilize countries like Iran and Venezuela...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We'll hold for a minute.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: ...Hoping to exacerbate racism to justify U.S. intervention.

KELEMEN: Up on Capitol Hill today, a protester saying he was from the ANSWER Coalition briefly interrupted a House budget hearing with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, accusing the Trump administration of economic warfare against both Venezuela and Iran. Unfazed, Pompeo is vowing more sanctions and pressure. When Republican Michael McCaul asked him what would happen if U.S. policy fails, the secretary said that's something he doesn't like to contemplate.

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MIKE POMPEO: Look; we've seen Russia continue trying to exert influence. We know that the Cubans are providing substantial support to the Maduro regime. Allowing Maduro to continue will have, as its primary negative outcome, continued destruction of the Venezuelan economy and real hardship for the Venezuelan people.

KELEMEN: And Pompeo says it will take years for Venezuela to get back on its feet. He's raising particular concern about the energy sector.

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POMPEO: I've seen estimates between $6 billion and $12 billion and years to repair. So the day after means making sure that Cuban and Russian influence are out, Maduro and his cronies are all gone, and we begin to rebuild the democracy. And the world will have to provide the economic assistance to get them through this transition period.

KELEMEN: The Trump administration, though, has been cutting its foreign aid budget, including to the region. And Pompeo is getting pushback in two House panels today, including from the House Appropriations Committee led by Democrat Nita Lowey.

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NITA LOWEY: And I'm astonished that three years into his administration, the president still does not appreciate the merits of sustained investments in diplomacy and development.

KELEMEN: The ranking Republican on her committee called the administration's budget request woefully inadequate and detached from reality. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.