Venezuela postponed a showdown with the United States by suspending a demand that US diplomats leave the country, as Washington called on the world to “pick a side” in the South American nation’s fast-moving crisis.
President Nicolas Maduro broke relations with the US on Wednesday after the Trump administration and many other nations in the region recognised opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president, a move that Maduro called a coup attempt.
Maduro initially gave US diplomats three days to leave the country, but the Trump administration said it wouldn’t obey, asserting that Maduro is no longer Venezuela’s legitimate president. That set the stage for a showdown at the hilltop US Embassy compound Saturday night when the deadline was to expire.
But as the sun set on Venezuela’s capital, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying Maduro’s government was suspending the expulsion to provide a 30-day window for negotiating with US officials the setting up of a “US interests office” in Venezuela and a similar Venezuelan office in the US.
The US and Cuba had a similar arrangement for decades before the Obama administration restored diplomatic relations with the communist-run island.
The State Department did not confirm the Venezuelan government’s account, reiterating only that its priority remains the safety of its personnel and that it has no plans to close the embassy.
‘Do not test the United States’
Earlier on Saturday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the UN Security Council that he “fully” expects diplomats will continue to receive protections provided under the Vienna Convention.
“Do not test the United States on our resolve to protect our people,” he warned.
In the Security Council meeting, critics and supporters of Maduro’s government faced off, reflecting the deep divisions over Venezuela, which is mired in political confrontation, as well as an economic collapse that has forced millions to flee the country.
During the debate, which was requested by the US, Pompeo urged all nations to end Venezuela’s “nightmare” and support Guaido.
“Now is the time for every other national to pick a side,” Pompeo said. “No more delays, no more games. Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you’re in league with Maduro and his mayhem.”
Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia said that the Trump administration is trying “to engineer a coup” against Maduro. He said Venezuela doesn’t threaten international peace and security, and he accused “extremist opponents” of Maduro’s government of choosing “maximum confrontation”, including the artificial creation of a parallel government.
Nebenzia argued any UN involvement in the Venezuela crisis constituted a violation of the nation’s sovereignty, and urged Pompeo to say whether the US will use military force.
Pompeo later told reporters who asked for a response, “I am not going to speculate or hypothesise on what the US will do next.”