Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday the Trump administration is preparing to “respond reciprocally” to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who kicked out the top two U.S. diplomats in Caracas Tuesday on allegations they tried to sabotage the presidential election there last weekend.
Mr. Maduro’s expulsion of U.S. Embassy Charge D’Affairs Todd Robinson and Political Section Chief Brian Naranjo was watched closely by the White House, Mr. Pompeo told lawmakers on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
The secretary of state did not offer specifics on counteractions the Trump administration has planned, saying only that “we will respond reciprocally, but perhaps more than that, perhaps proportionately.”
“We’re well aware,” Mr. Pompeo said during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. “We’re watching the Maduro regime continue to engage in destructive behavior for the Venezuelan people.”
Tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela have soared over the past year, but mounted anew following Mr. Maduro’s victory in presidential election Sunday, a vote that the White House and others in the international community branded a “sham.”
Mr. Maduro claimed in a speech Tuesday that Messrs. Robinson and Naranjo, whom he referred to as the head of the CIA in Venezuela, both personally pressured several anti-government presidential aspirants not to compete in the race.
Despite widespread discontent over Venezuela’s economic collapse, most opposition parties decided to boycott the election after officials blocked their most popular leaders from competing against Mr. Maduro.
Mr. Maduro also accused the Trump administration, which toughened financial sanctions on his government Monday, of seeking to escalate “aggressions” against the Venezuelan people. U.S. officials have also said the administration might consider imposing oil sanctions on Venezuela.
“The dominant and decisive reason why the opposition progressively withdrew from the elections was the decision by the extremist U.S. government to not validate or legitimize a presidential election that they knew fully was going to be won in any scenario by the candidate of Nicolas Maduro,” Mr. Maduro said.
Anticipating likely reciprocal expulsion by the Trump administration, Mr. Maduro hours later gave a new job to Carlos Ron, who had been serving as his top envoy to Washington.
Mr. Ron was named deputy foreign minister in charge of relations with North America.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.