In what appears a move meant to slow or calm the ratcheting external pressures on the Nicolas Maduro government after over a dozen countries led by the United States have declared his second term "illegitimate" and after White House officials said "all options are on the table" for dealing with the crisis, the embattled president has walked back his earlier demand for American diplomats to exit the country within 72 hours.
The break in diplomatic ties came Wednesday, but Maduro has now revised the demand to give time for negotiations in what he said in a televised statement was an act of "true diplomacy". Instead now he's offering that the White House has 30 days to negotiate for the establishment of a "US interests office" in Caracas and a mirror institution for the Venezuelans in Washington.
This could slow the pace of fast-moving escalation that had US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday calling on the world to "pick a side" in the crisis while urging all nations to end Venezuela's "nightmare" and support "Interim President" Juan Guaido.
"Now is the time for every other national to pick a side," Pompeo told the UN Security Council meeting to discuss Venezuela in New York. "No more delays, no more games. Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you're in league with Maduro and his mayhem."
And addressing the impending expelling of US diplomats, he said: "Let me be 100 percent clear — President Trump and I fully expect that our diplomats will continue to receive protections provided under the Vienna Convention. Do not test the United States on our resolve to protect our people." Pompeo also noted, following President Trump's prior controversial declaration that the US only recognizes National Assembly head Guaido as the legitimate president, that Maduro doesn't have the “legal authority to break diplomatic relations.”
The official statement offering more time for negotiations with the United States.
#EnVivo 📹 | Este es el Comunicado Oficial leído por el presidente @NicolasMaduro donde se acuerdan los mecanismos para la creación de la oficina de Representación de Intereses Oficiales entre el gobierno de EE.UU. y el gobierno de Venezuela pic.twitter.com/azXGms1N0w— Prensa Presidencial (@PresidencialVen) January 26, 2019
No doubt the White House sees its tactics as working and building momentum for peeling away top military leaders, necessary for an eventual full coup d'état, as on Saturday Venezuela's top military attaché at the Washington D.C. Embassy broke with the Maduro regime, and began urging other members of the Venezuelan armed forces to recognize Juan Guaidó as the legitimate interim president, according to the Miami Herald.
Col. José Luis Silva told el Nuevo Herald in a telephone interview from Washington, "As the Venezuelan defense attaché in the United States, I do not recognize Mr. Nicolás Maduro as president of Venezuela." Col. Silva then stated, "My message to all armed forces members, to everyone who carries a gun, is to please let’s not attack the people. We are also part of the people, and we’ve had enough of supporting a government that has betrayed the most basic principles and sold itself to other countries."
Meanwhile during the UNSC session the Russian ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, came to Maduro's defense, accusing Washington of treating Latin America “as its backyard with no regard to the interests of people living there." Ambassador Nebenzia slammed the Trump administration for trying "to engineer a coup" against Maduro, and added that "extremist opponents" of Maduro's government have chosen the path of "maximum confrontation," which includes the foreign-backed creation of a parallel government.
The worry over potential military confrontation or civil war inside the country is increasingly looking very real as over the weekend reports surfaced online of a build-up of Venezuelan military assets along the borders.
The Russian ambassador further addressed the potential for US military intervention in the crisis saying according to Reuters, "(The) U.S. has now stated all options are on the table which is ... dangerous." He continued, telling reporters on the sidelines of the UNSC meeting: "If it evolves into something more military that is even more regretful. We think it should be avoided at any cost."
Russia has further described as "absurd" and "childlike" a new ultimatum issued by Britain, Germany, France and Spain for Maduro to call fresh elections within eight days or else they would recognize Guaido and stand alongside the United States, according to Reuters.
Also worrisome concerning the potential for serious escalation, at Pompeo's side for the UNSC meeting in New York was Elliott Abrams (notably who plead guilty during the Iran-Contra scandal), named the day prior as the U.S. special representative for Venezuela, which for many represents the Trump administration going "gloves off" in what appears a return to Cold War era policy of aggressive covert and military means to effect regime change in Latin America, given Abrams' checkered past.