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Venezuela seeks Trump talks, but US quickly says no

File photo of US President Donald Trump (R) and Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro (L). Photograph:( Reuters )

AFP Geneva, Switzerland Feb 28, 2019, 03.14 PM (IST)

Venezuela's foreign minister on Wednesday called for direct talks between President Nicolas Maduro and Donald Trump to address the country's crisis -- a proposal swiftly rejected by the White House, which recognises the opposition. 

The call from Venezuela's top diplomat Jorge Arreaza came in an address to the United Nations Human Rights Council that was boycotted by multiple diplomats including from Latin America and Europe. 

"We are proposing the path of dialogue, even with the United States... Why shouldn't they meet, President Trump and President Maduro?" Arreaza said.

The United States does not sit on the rights council following Trump's decision to quit the body last year. 

But the American envoy to the UN's Conference on Disarmament (CoD) Robert Wood walked out of the chamber as another Venezuelan diplomat, Felix Plasencia, took the podium. 

Several Latin American, European and other diplomats also joined Wood's walkout.

Vice President Mike Pence said the United States only recognises opposition leader Juan Guaido -- whom he met earlier this week in Colombia in a show of support.

"The only thing to discuss with Maduro at this point is the time and date for his departure," Pence tweeted.

"For democracy to return and for Venezuela to rebuild -- Maduro must go," he wrote.

Wood, asked about the prospects of a Trump-Maduro summit, told reporters: "President Trump is prepared to meet with the rightful president of Venezuela and that is Juan Guaido."

Venezuela's call comes just as Trump meets in Hanoi with another US arch-enemy, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The US has led a diplomatic campaign in support of opposition leader Guaido who has declared himself interim president and is recognised by about 50 countries, notably within the EU. 

Arreaza denounced what he described as a campaign of "aggression" being perpetrated by the United States against Venezuela, including an international assault on the government's foreign assets.  

He said Washington's actions were depriving ordinary Venezuelans of food and medicine and called on the rights council to "raise its voice" against the American "blockade."

Wood said it was a "disgrace" that Maduro's representatives were being allowed to address UN bodies. 

Wednesday's walkouts in the rights council and disarmament chamber "sent a very powerful message," he added. 

"The former Maduro regime should not be allowed to try to continue to represent the Venezuelan people," Wood said. 

The US has ramped up the pressure on the Maduro regime with sanctions against top officials, and the promise to exempt those who recognise Guaido as their true leader.

An estimated 2.7 million people have fled Venezuela since a devastating political and economic crisis engulfed the country in 2015, according to the UN. 
 

Story highlights

The call from Venezuela's top diplomat Jorge Arreaza came in an address to the United Nations Human Rights Council that was boycotted by multiple diplomats including from Latin America and Europe.