During a press conference outside his Bedminster resort on Friday evening, President Donald Trump suggested the US was weighing military options in response to ongoing turmoil in Venezuela.
Asked about the US response to the political, economic, and social crises in the South American country, Trump said, "We have many options for Venezuela, and by the way, I'm not going to rule out a military option."
"We have many options for Venezuela. This is our neighbor ... this is — we're all over the world, and we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away," Trump added. "Venezuela is not very far away, and the people are suffering, and they're dying. We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary."
Asked if it would be a US-led military operation, Trump said, "We don't talk about it, but a military operation, a military option is certainly something that we could pursue."
"I support peace. I support safety, and I support having to get tough if we have to" in order to protect Americans and people around the world, the president added.
After Trump's remarks, the Pentagon said that it had not gotten any orders on Venezuela from the White House, according to Idrees Ali of Reuters. The Pentagon added that, "Any insinuations by the Maduro regime that we are planning an invasion are baseless."
The US has already issued three rounds of sanctions against Venezuela officials since the end of July.
Thirteen officials were sanctioned during the last week July, ahead of the vote to elect members to a widely condemned constituent assembly that critics charge is a government maneuver to consolidate power by President Nicolas Maduro. After the vote on July 30, the US sanctioned Maduro himself, and this week the US Treasury announced sanctions against eight more officials.
Venezuela is now in the fifth month of a period of protests that broke out in early April, after the supreme court, considered by many to aligned with Maduro, attempted to strip the opposition-led National Assembly of its powers.
The supreme court backed off that effort, but the often violent protests that have taken place since have left at least 120 people dead, the majority of them anti-government demonstrators, and led to thousands of arrests.
This week, 17 countries from the region condemned the "breakdown of democratic order" in Venezuela and said they would not recognize the constituent assembly or any measures it may pass regarding future joint oil ventures or debt matters.
Trump administration officials have previously said all options are on the table" to penalize Maduro and his government, including import or export bans on Venezuelan oil or sanctions on the state-run oil company, Pdvsa.
A number of experts as well as US businesses have urged caution with sanctions on the oil industry. Venezuela gets about 95% of its export revenue from oil, and a reduction of that could hinder its ability to buy imported food and medicine, adding to the humanitarian crisis in the country.
Venezuela is also the US's third-largest oil supplier, and sanctions on that oil could affect jobs and gas prices in the US.
Venezuela under Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, has had contentious relations with the US and the two countries have not had ambassadors since 2010.
On Thursday, Maduro said Venezuela "will never give in" but also appealed for a meeting with Trump, who has called the Venezuelan president a "dictator."
During an address to the new, all-powerful constitutional assembly, Maduro told his foreign minister to approach the US about a telephone conversation or meeting with Trump.
"Mr. Donald Trump, here is my hand," Maduro said, adding that he wants as strong a relationship with the US as he has with Russia.
You can see a clip of Trump's comments below.
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