Pence Tamps Down Trump’s Military-in-Venezuela Talk

In region, VP talks up American economic and diplomatic tools

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence delivers a joint press conference with Argentina's President Mauricio Macri (out of frame) after a meeting at the Olivos Presidential residence in Olivos, Buenos Aires on August 15, 2017. (JUAN MABROMATA/AFP/Getty Images)

Vice President Mike Pence continued his attempts to cool fears in South America that President Donald Trump will plunge the U.S. military into Venezuela’s ongoing political unrest.

At just about every turn since Pence landed on the continent Sunday evening, the vice president has been quick to deploy two very different words: economic and diplomatic.

“The president’s made it clear, as well, that the United States has many options, and we reserve those options, but we truly believe that by increasing economic and diplomatic pressure on the [Nicolas] Maduro regime, not just across the Americas but across the wider world, that we can achieve the restoration of democracy in Venezuela by peaceable means,” Pence said Tuesday during a joint news conference with his Argentinian counterpart.

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The first part of his response to a reporter’s question was a nod to Trump’s comments Friday that he has options to help cool tensions and set up potential new elections in Venezuela. One option being to deploy American military forces on Venezuelan soil.

“President Trump is determined to bring the full weight of American economic and diplomatic power to bear until we see the suffering relieved in Venezuela and democracy restored,” the VP said.

His repeated stressing Tuesday of using economic and diplomatic means to help resolve the conflict came a day after he did the same during an interview with NBC News.

The Trump administration will not allow Venezuela to “collapse into dictatorship,” Pence said Monday, adding the U.S. is “committed to bring all the resources of our nation, economically and diplomatically to bear” to prevent that.

On Friday, Trump said he has not ruled out a military option in Venezuela, calling the situation there a “mess.”

The president did not say whether any military action would be led by the United States and did not answer a question about whether he wanted to see regime change in Venezuela. Later Friday evening, the White House announced Trump had declined to take a call requested by Maduro.

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“Since the start of this administration, President Trump has asked that Maduro respect Venezuela’s constitution, hold free and fair elections, release political prisoners, cease all human rights violations, and stop oppressing Venezuela’s great people,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “The Maduro regime has refused to heed this call, which has been echoed around the region and the world.

“Instead Maduro has chosen the path of dictatorship,” she said, then signaled Trump at the least wants Maduro to call a new election: “President Trump will gladly speak with the leader of Venezuela as soon as democracy is restored in that country.”

On Sunday, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a senior Senate Armed Services Committee member, said he sees no reason to use U.S. military force in Venezuela.

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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