By Michelle Nichols
UNITEDNATIONS (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he was open to meeting Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro if it would help the people of Venezuela, but warned that “all options were still on the table” to deal with the crisis.
Maduro said he hoped to arrange a face-to-face meeting with Trump. The White House responded to a similar request last year by saying such a meeting would happen when the country returned to democracy.
Maduro was due to speak at the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations later on Wednesday.
“I would certainly be open to it, I’m willing to meet with anybody,” Trump said on Wednesday as he arrived at United Nations headquarters. “We’re going to take care of Venezuela, if he’s here and he wants to meet, it was not on my mind, it was not on my plate, but if I can help people that’s what I’m here for.”
Under Maduro, Venezuela has limited the powers of the opposition-run legislature, jailed opposition politicians and created a parallel congress with unlimited powers.
Inflation is running at 200,000 percent and basic foods and medicines, like rice and antibiotics, are increasingly difficult to obtain. That has fuelled an exodus of Venezuelans to nearby Latin American countries, where borders are now overwhelmed by Venezuelan migrants.
Maduro says he is the victim of an “economic war” led by U.S.-backed adversaries. He denies limiting political freedoms, insisting opposition leaders have plotted assassination attempts and sought to overthrow him through violent street protests.
“All options are on the table, every one,” Trump told reporters. “The strong ones and the less than strong ones and you know what I mean by strong. Every option is on the table with respect to Venezuela.”
The United States imposed new sanctions on Maduro’s wife and several of his top allies on Tuesday. The Trump administration has levied several rounds of sanctions against Maduro’s government since 2017.
(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and James Dalgleish)