President Donald Trump participates in a United Nations Security Council briefing on counterproliferation at the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018, at U.N. Headquarters. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Trump: Willing to meet Maduro to ease Venezuelan suffering

September 26, 2018 - 1:20 pm

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — President Donald Trump said Wednesday he's willing to meet with his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro if it would help ease suffering in the South American nation.

Trump's remarks as he arrived for meetings at the United Nations came hours before Maduro announced he had gone to New York to speak to the U.N. General Assembly. He had earlier threatened to skip the global gathering.

In a video broadcast by Venezuelan state television, Maduro said he was going "to defend the truth of Venezuela, to bring the voice of the country."

However, it remained unclear whether the two leaders would meet, despite Trump's earlier statement.

"I'm willing to meet with anybody anytime I can (to) save lives, help people," Trump said as he was pummeled by reporters' questions about whether the U.S. would ever intervene military to remove Maduro.

The Trump administration on Tuesday imposed financial sanctions on four members of Maduro's inner circle, including his wife and the nation's vice president, on allegations of corruption. He also suggested Maduro could be easily toppled in a military coup, echoing comments first floated last year that some sort of "military solution" may be needed to restore Venezuela's democracy.

The newly sanctioned first lady, Cilia Flores, accompanied Maduro to New York.

Maduro has been seeking a meeting with Trump for almost two years and has watched with frustration as the U.S. leader has talked with American adversaries like North Korea's Kim Jong Un and Russia's Vladimir Putin while shunning Venezuelan entreaties.

Citgo, a subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company, was a major corporate donor to Trump's inaugural committee. Maduro also this year freed a former Utah missionary jailed for more than two years on weapons charges in a bid to draw close to the White House.

But his desire for some sort of reconciliation with the U.S. has increased as international pressure has been building on his socialist government at a time of hyperinflation and widespread food and medicine shortages.

On Wednesday, presidents from five conservative Latin American governments and Canada's prime minister met in New York and signed a complaint with the International Criminal Court asking it to investigate Maduro on charges of crimes against humanity.

It's the first time that member countries have referred another country to the Netherlands-based U.N. court. They point to a human rights report blaming Venezuelan security forces for carrying out "arbitrary arrests, murders, extrajudicial executions, torture, sexual abuse and rape" on orders from Maduro's government.

Maduro has not attended the UN General Assembly since 2015 and said last week he may have to suspend his participation this year out of concerns his opponents would try to kill him if he travels abroad.

Trump said Wednesday that all U.S. options are on the table to help end the political, economic and humanitarian chaos in Venezuela — even the "strong ones."

"I just want to see Venezuela straightened out. I want the people to be safe. We're going to take care of Venezuela," he said, calling Venezuela's situation a "disgrace."

"If he (Maduro) is 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," he added.

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Joshua Goodman contributed from Bogota, Colombia. Associated Press writer Scott Smith contributed from Caracas, Venezuela.

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