PARIS (Reuters) – Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said on Monday he is open to meeting U.S. leader Donald Trump at the United Nations later this month despite expressing concerns that the United States could launch a military intervention on his country.
More than 300 people have been killed and 2,000 injured in crackdowns by Nicaraguan police and armed groups in protests that began in April over an abortive plan by leftist Ortega’s government to reduce welfare benefits.
The United States on Sept. 5 declared Nicaragua’s civil unrest a threat to the region’s security, saying government repression of protests risked creating an overwhelming displacement of people akin to Venezuela or Syria.
“We are under threat,” Ortega told France 24 TV in an interview being broadcast on Monday. “We can’t rule out anything out as far as the U.S. is concerned. We can’t rule out a military intervention,” he said.
An advance copy of the interview was given to Reuters by the news TV channel.
U.S. government officials were not immediately available to respond to Ortega’s comments.
April’s protests escalated into broader opposition against Ortega, who has been in office since 2007. He also served as president in the 1980s when he was a notable Cold War antagonist of the United States during Nicaragua’s civil war.
Accusing the U.S. of training armed groups to stoke trouble in his country, Ortega reiterated that early elections would be detrimental to Nicaragua. The next presidential vote is due in late 2020.
Ortea said he would be prepared to meet Trump if it could be arranged.
“The idea of having a dialogue with a power like the U.S. is necessary,” said Ortega, interviewed in Spanish with English translation. “It could be an opportunity (to meet Trump) at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). I’d like to go.”
The annual gathering of world leaders starts on Sept. 24 at the U.N.‘s headquarters in New York.
Ortega said he was keen to restart dialogue with his opponents and had approached Spain and Germany to help play a role.
The current violence comes after years of calm in Nicaragua and is the worst since his Sandinista movement battled U.S.-backed “Contra” rebels in the 1980s.
Washington has blamed Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla leader, and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, for the situation. The U.S. has also imposed sanctions against three top Nicaraguan officials, citing human rights abuses.
(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Hugh Lawson)