- Associated Press - Saturday, April 14, 2018

LIMA, Peru (AP) - Abroad during a major military strike, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence plans to address Latin American leaders Saturday on President Donald Trump’s decision to launch air strikes in Syria in response to a suspected chemical attack in the war-torn nation.

Pence was whisked away from the Summit of the Americas late Friday so he could inform U.S. congressional leaders by phone of Trump’s plans to announce the missile strikes. The vice president spoke to top Republican and Democratic leaders from his hotel suite before attending a banquet hosted by Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra.

For Pence, the calls and schedule changes served as the latest example of his supporting role here in place of Trump, who pulled out of the summit so he could manage the U.S. response to the suspected chemical attack in Syria.

Pence’s motorcade took him from opening events surrounding the summit about 45 minutes before Trump addressed the nation on the military strikes in coordination with France and Great Britain. Aides said he had been in touch with Trump “multiple times” as he traveled to Peru aboard Air Force Two and also conferred with national security adviser John Bolton.

Jarrod Agen, Pence’s deputy chief of staff, said the vice president planned to address the gathering of Latin American leaders about the strikes on Saturday.

Pence will dive quickly into a series of diplomatic hurdles in Trump’s place. The vice president will sit down with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, who has yet to meet with Trump amid an impasse over the wall Trump has pledged to build along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Pence’s meeting with Pena Nieto will follow Trump’s recent calls to send National Guard troops to the border. That adds further tensions as the neighbors, along with Canada, work to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The vice president was also meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in talks expected to address NAFTA.

Much of Pence’s message will be aimed at building support for further isolating Venezuela, which has faced U.S. sanctions amid a political crisis led by President Nicolas Maduro.

Shortly after arriving in Lima, Pence announced that the U.S. would provide nearly $16 million in humanitarian assistance to Venezuelans who have fled their country and met with opposition leaders who pleaded for more sanctions.

In a series of meetings with Latin American leaders, Pence plans to promote good governance and democratic institutions and urge allies to maintain pressure on Maduro. The U.S. has sanctioned Maduro and dozens of top officials, accusing the country of human rights abuses and sliding into a dictatorship.

Maduro has been barred from the summit over his plans to hold a presidential election that the opposition is boycotting and that many foreign governments consider a sham.


On Twitter follow Ken Thomas at https://twitter.com/KThomasDC

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