- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 25, 2019

President Trump said Wednesday there’s been a “tragedy of historic proportions” in Venezuela and spoke extensively about the crisis under strongman Nicolas Maduro, hoping to keep things on track in his first public appearance after details of his unusual conversation with the Ukrainian president were released.

Mr. Trump spoke for eight minutes about the crisis in South America from the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

He said socialism has “destroyed” Venezuela and led to widespread suffering.

“Today Venezuelans are starving, and they’re dying from lack of medicine,” he said.

He said the U.S. is doing everything it can to isolate Mr. Maduro and his “cronies,” after a U.S.-backed push to replace the strongman with opposition leader Juan Guaido failed earlier this year.

Mr. Trump said he hasn’t given up on the mission, and Venezuela will be rebuilt once “a peaceful transition occurs.”

Mr. Maduro, whose government in recent days has stepped up efforts to divide the opposition, was in Moscow Wednesday as Mr. Trump spoke, making a surprise visit to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia has provided critical military and economic support to Caracas, and criticized the U.S.-led campaign to oust the socialist president.

“Russia has been an unwavering supporter of all legitimate authorities in Venezuela including the president,” Mr. Putin said.

The Associated Press reported that neither leader spoke about future aid, though Mr. Putin said that Russia intends to maintain its cooperation with Venezuela in energy, health care and food supplies.

Last spring, the U.S. and dozens of western countries hoped that economic and diplomatic pressure would force Mr. Maduro’s inner circle to turn on him and topple the regime, though it didn’t work as planned.

The false start caused friction between Mr. Trump and his national security adviser, John R. Bolton, who was pushed out of the White House earlier this month.

The administration continues to tighten sanctions on Mr. Maduro, even moving to establish a full economic embargo on Venezuela.

“We will stand with the Venezuelan people every single day,” Mr. Trump said. “They will be free.”

The president took one question on the controversy over his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

He said the release of the transcript revealed he placed “no pressure whatsoever” on the European leader and slammed the “corrupt” media for building up the episode, even as some in Washington said the details put Mr. Trump in deeper trouble.

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