US envoy to Venezuela pursues UN push for action against Nicolas Maduro
Elliott Abrams and Russian envoy to UN clash during US bid for diplomatic support against Caracas
Elliott Abrams, the Trump administration's special representative for Venezuela, on Tuesday said the US would push for a Security Council vote on aid and elections in the country, and that new sanctions on President Nicolas Maduro's government were imminent.
Mr Abrams, who had a role in the Iran-Contra affair and other interventionist involvement in Latin America, took the US seat on the Security Council during a briefing on Venezuela's worsening political crisis.
He denied claims from Russia that the US was preparing for war against Mr Maduro, in what became a long and heated session.
But the US has been pushing for an end to the Maduro government. A bid for support from other Latin countries included a visit to Colombia by US Vice President Mike Pence on Monday where he met Mr Maduro's opponent, the opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Before Tuesday's meeting convened the White House received a boost when the group of eight serving or recent EU members of the Security Council called for elections in Venezuela.
They expressed alarm at reports of violence and civilian deaths last weekend and urged security personnel “to show maximum restraint, avoid the use of force and allow humanitarian aid to enter the country”.
The European group also repeated its assessment that elections last May that returned Mr Maduro to power were “neither free, fair nor credible”.
“An inclusive and peaceful political solution to the crisis must urgently be found," they said.
"We therefore strongly renew our call for the restoration of democracy through free, transparent and credible presidential elections."
UN undersecretary general Rosemary DiCarlo, speaking a month after her last appearance at the council, said the situation was deteriorating rapidly amid a political battle between Mr Guaido, who declared himself president last month, and Mr Maduro over the delivery of aid.
On February 23, Mr Guaido led efforts to move supplies that had been stockpiled by the US at Brazil and Colombia's borders with Venezuela, but he and supporters were blocked by forces loyal to Mr Maduro and aid trucks were burnt.
“We'll have a resolution this week which will certainly call for the admission of humanitarian aid into Venezuela and will comment on the events of the last few days,” Mr Abrams said before the meeting.
He said the US was not preparing to send in the military but repeated that President Donald Trump had the right to say all options were on the table in dealing with Caracas.
Mr Maduro “has destroyed the economy of Venezuela and prevented humanitarian aid from arriving", Mr Abrams said.
“The solution to the humanitarian situation is to get a government that works for, rather than against, the people of Venezuela."
The US has been pushing the 15-member Security Council to formally call for free, fair and credible presidential elections with international observers.
Russia drafted a rival resolution, causing a diplomatic rupture. China, another permanent member of the council, stands by Mr Maduro, while Britain and France have backed the US push.
Vassily Nebenzia, Russia's permanent representative to the UN, said the deadly clashes over aid at the weekend were a spectacle created by Mr Guaido, who he dismissed as “an imposter who turned up and announced himself as the president of Venezuela”.
Mr Abrams responded by claiming that Russia only continued to support the Maduro government as a means of getting back money it has tied up in Venezuela's oil industry.
Updated: February 27, 2019 02:53 AM