WASHINGTON.- US President Donald Trump spoke with Russia’s Vladimir Putin for more than an hour Friday about topics including Venezuela and North Korea.
They also discussed a possible new nuclear agreement encompassing the United States, Russia and China.
«The president reiterated the need for a peaceful transition» in Venezuela, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters.
The phone call took place while US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House National Security Adviser John Bolton were visiting the Pentagon to weigh possible military options in Venezuela.
Asked about developments on that front, Sanders reiterated that «all options continue to be on the table» with respect to the ongoing political crisis in the oil-rich South American nation.
«The president is going to do what is required, if necessary,» she added.
In his conversation with Putin, Trump made it clear that the US is on the side of the Venezuelan people, Sanders said.
«His focus throughout the conversation was on the need to help the people and make sure that the aid was actually getting to them and being delivered.»
Later Friday, Trump told reporters at the White House that he and Putin discussed a range of topics, including Venezuela.
«And he (Putin) is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela other than he would like to see something positive happen for Venezuela, and I feel the same way. We want to get some humanitarian aid – right now people are starving, they have no food, they have no water,» the president said.
The issue of humanitarian assistance has been front and center in Venezuela in recent months.
On Feb. 23, opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is regarded as Venezuela’s interim president by the US and dozens of other countries, tried to lead an effort to move American humanitarian supplies into Venezuela from Colombia.
But Venezuela’s military blocked that aid at the orders of leftist President Nicolas Maduro, who said that assistance was a Trojan horse and that he would be paving the way for a US-led military intervention if he allowed it to enter.
The South American country has been racked by hyperinflation and food shortages in recent years, with the opposition blaming the economic crisis on socialist policies and the government saying the country has been the target of US-led economic warfare.
On Tuesday, Guaido tried to spark a military uprising against Maduro’s government.
The US blames Russia and Cuba for the continuance in office of Maduro, who is regarded by the US, Canada, most of the major European countries and much of Latin America as illegitimate after he was re-elected last year in balloting marred by fraud allegations.
Russia, Cuba, China and India are among the more than 120 nations that continue to recognize Maduro as Venezuela’s president.
Pompeo said this week that Maduro was about to leave power and travel to Cuba but that Russia convinced him to stay on as president, although Moscow denies that account.
On Wednesday, Pompeo and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had a tense phone conversation.
Washington’s top diplomat told his Russian counterpart that the support Moscow and Havana have shown for Maduro «is destabilizing for Venezuela and for the US-Russia bilateral relationship,» State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.
Lavrov, for his part, said on the call that Washington was in flagrant violation of international law in demanding Maduro’s ouster and encouraging the Guaido-led attempted uprising on Tuesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Trump and Putin also spoke Friday about «nuclear agreements, both new and extended, with the possibility of having conversations with China on that front as well,» Sanders told reporters, without offering further details.
The United States announced on Feb. 1 that it would withdraw the next day from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, an agreement that dates back to the Cold War.
In a statement then, Trump said, «For far too long, Russia has violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with impunity, covertly developing and fielding a prohibited missile system that poses a direct threat to our allies and troops abroad.»
Russia, which denied violating the pact, followed suit by suspending its participation in the INF treaty on Feb. 2.
Sanders said Trump and Putin also discussed North Korea, whose leader, Kim Jong-un, has the backing of Putin in his stalled negotiation process with the US over the Asian nation’s nuclear weapons program.
The two men also «very, very briefly» discussed special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged collusion between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Moscow and his findings that there was no conspiracy, Sanders said.
She added that the two leaders «were both very well aware (of the lack of collusion) long before this call took place.»
The Kremlin’s press service said the conversation took place at the initiative of the US and that the focus of the talks was on bilateral cooperation and mutually beneficial trade relations and investment.
Putin informed Trump about the key results of his April 25 meeting in Vladivostok with Kim and stressed that North Korea should receive sanctions relief in exchange for its steps toward nuclear disarmament, according to the statement.
During his call with the US president, Putin reiterated his long-standing position that it is up to the Venezuelan people to determine their country’s future and that outside interference and efforts to force regime change will only undermine the possibility of a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
«The parties agreed to maintain contacts at different levels,» said the Kremlin, which described the conversation as «constructive.»