Pompeo to speak with Russian counterpart; White House meeting on Venezuela set

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration turned its attention to Russia’s role in Venezuela on Wednesday, a day after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Moscow of intervening when President Nicolas Maduro was preparing to leave the country.

Pompeo was scheduled to speak with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, and the White House National Security Council scheduled a meeting to discuss next steps on the political turmoil in Venezuela, national security adviser John Bolton said.

Pompeo accused Russia on Tuesday of intervening when Maduro was prepared to leave the country in the face of a call by opposition leader Juan Guaido for Venezuela’s military to help him oust Maduro. Bolton told CNN and Fox News that Pompeo planned to talk with Lavrov on Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters at the White House later, Bolton would not elaborate on what the United States knew about Russia influencing Maduro’s plans, but he made clear Moscow’s interference was not welcome.

Earlier on Wednesday, Pompeo said during a television interview that the United States was prepared to take military action to stem the turmoil in Venezuela.

“Military action is possible. If that’s what’s required, that’s what the United States will do,” Pompeo told Fox Business Network, but reiterated that the United States would prefer a peaceful transition of power.

Venezuelans were expected to take to the streets on Wednesday for what Guaido pledged would be the “largest march” in the country’s history.

Bolton said the United States has been warning Russia and Cuba against intervening in Venezuela, and has called on them to remove any troops from the country.

“The Russians are all over this, the Cubans are all over this,” Bolton said in an interview with Fox News.

Asked if Washington was considering more sanctions against Russia because of the situation, Bolton told reporters: “There could be a lot of steps. We’re going to have a quickly called meeting of national security council principles today at 2 o’clock – we’ll be considering a lot of steps.”

Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan cancelled a planned trip to Europe on Wednesday to help him better coordinate with the Trump administration on Venezuela as well as on deployments to the U.S. border with Mexico, the Pentagon said.