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President Nicolás Maduro on Wednesday faced the gravest challenge to his authority since assuming power in 2013, as the leader of the U.S.-backed opposition claimed the legitimate mantle of leadership and President Donald Trump and other world leaders promptly recognized him as Venezuela’s interim and rightful head of state.
A defiant Maduro responded by announcing a break in “diplomatic and political relations” with the United States, ordering American diplomats to leave the country within 72 hours.
The high stakes move set up a looming diplomatic crisis. Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader now recognized by Washington as Venezuela’s interim president, called on diplomats to remain. In a statement late Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested the Trump administration would not heed Maduro’s demand and called on the Venezuelan armed forces to refrain from endangering American personnel or face “appropriate actions.”
“The United States does not recognize the Maduro regime as the government of Venezuela,” the statement said. “Accordingly the United States does not consider former president Nicolas Maduro to have the legal authority to break diplomatic relations with the United States or to declare our diplomats persona non grata.”
Earlier in the day, Trump was asked if military force was being considered. “We’re not considering anything, but all options on the table,” he said. “All options, always, all options are on the table.”