Trump warns of tougher sanctions on Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday that the United States could impose harsher sanctions on Venezuela in its campaign to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

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Recent power outages across Venezuela show that "something terrible is going on down there" and "we need to put an end" to the current dire situation, Trump said at a joint news conference with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro at the White House.

Both Brazil and the United States have voiced support for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has been recognized as the country's legitimate leader by about 50 countries. In a bid to force a change of leadership, the United States has imposed oil sanctions on Venezuela as well as sanctions on individuals associated with the government of Maduro, who charges that he is the target of a U.S. coup plot.

The U.S. could impose "a lot tougher" sanctions on Venezuela if needed, Trump said, and he also repeated that "all options are open" when dealing with the crisis in Venezuela. He added that the United States is "not looking for anything other than taking care of a lot of people."

Venezuela's government rejected "the dangerous statements" of Trump and Bolsonaro.

"The U.S. warlike influence on Brazil and the supremacist theses of Donald Trump on Jair Bolsonaro are of great concern," it said in a statement. "Undoubtedly, both presidents reflect the most retrograde ideas for the peoples of the region, as well as for world peace and security."

U.S. officials say they are focused on putting diplomatic and financial pressure on Maduro's government, which says Trump is preparing for military intervention in a country struggling with hyperinflation and shortages of basic goods. In recent years, more than 3 million Venezuelans have fled a country that was once one of Latin America's wealthiest nations because of its vast oil reserves.

The U.S. and Guaido attributed recent nationwide blackouts on alleged graft and mismanagement under Maduro, who blamed what he said was U.S.-directed sabotage.

On Tuesday, the U.S. added a Venezuelan state-owned mining company to a growing sanctions list as it seeks to increase pressure on Maduro. The move bars any U.S. citizen or entity from any financial transactions with the Minerven gold mining company and its president, Adrian Antonio Perdomo Mata. The company is helping prop up Maduro, the U.S. Treasury Department said.

The Treasury Department also lifted sanctions on the wives of two Venezuelan TV magnates close to Maduro two months after their U.S. assets were frozen as part of a crackdown on corruption.

Maria Alexandra Perdomo and her husband, Raul Gorrin, were among seven individuals sanctioned in January for allegedly running a graft network that stole $2.4 billion from state coffers through corrupt currency deals.

Her removal from the blacklist Tuesday, along with the wife of Gorrin's brother-in-law and business partner, Raul Perdomo, suggests the two women may be cooperating with U.S. authorities trying to untangle the web of corruption that proliferated during two decades of socialist rule in Venezuela. Prosecutors in Miami indicted Gorrin last year on charges of bribing Venezuelan officials.

In Rome, officials from the U.S. and Russia remained split on how to resolve the crisis in Venezuela after talks there. Elliott Abrams, the Trump administration's special envoy to Venezuela, met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.

"We did not come to a meeting of the minds, but the talks were positive in the sense that I think both sides emerged with a better understanding of the other's views," Abrams told reporters.

Russia backs Maduro and has accused Washington of meddling in Venezuela's affairs by pressing him to step down and hand over power to Guaido, the leader of the opposition-controlled congress who wants to hold elections.

Speaking to Russian media, Ryabkov emphasized the need for dialogue with the U.S. but warned Washington against any military intervention.

"We have warned the U.S. against that reckless approach," Ryabkov said in remarks that were carried by the state Tass and RIA Novosti news agencies.

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Associated Press writers Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Ben Fox in Washington contributed to this report.