Bolton says 'all options are on the table' in Venezuela as protests intensify

National security adviser John BoltonJohn Robert BoltonTrump: 'I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons' Rocket attack hits Baghdad's Green Zone amid escalating tensions: reports Trump: War would 'be the official end of Iran' MORE on Tuesday repeated that “all options remain on the table” in regard to possible U.S. military intervention into Venezuela, where clashes worsened between forces loyal to President Nicolás Maduro and opposition groups.

“We want as our principle objective the peaceful transfer of power, but I will say again as the president has said from the outset ... all options are on the table,” Bolton told reporters outside the White House.

The Trump administration quickly threw its support behind protests in Caracas that began Tuesday morning led by National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó, whom the Unites States recognized as the country's interim president in January.

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Bolton said so far that “over 40 people have been killed by the Maduro regime in the course of these protests” and called upon key Venezuelan officials to follow through on promises he said they had made to support Guaidó.

“We think it’s still very important for key figures in the regime who have been talking to the opposition over these last three months to make good on their commitments to achieve the peaceful transfer of power” from Maduro to Guaidó, he said.

He specifically mentioned Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino; Maikel Moreno Pérez, president of Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice; and Ivan Rafael Hernandez Dala, the commander of Venezuela’s Directorate General of Military Counter-Intelligence.

“All agreed that Maduro had to go. They need to be able to act this afternoon or this evening to help bring other military forces to the side of the interim president,” Bolton said.

Ousting Maduro in Venezuela has become a top foreign policy priority of the Trump administration.

Venezuela policy has been led and executed from the National Security Council under Bolton and his Western Hemisphere chief, Mauricio Claver-Carone, a close ally of Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: Trump takes flak for not joining anti-extremism pact | Phone carriers largely end sharing of location data | Huawei pushes back on ban | Florida lawmakers demand to learn counties hacked by Russians | Feds bust 0M cybercrime group Huawei says inclusion on US trade blacklist is in 'no one's interest' Frustrated GOP senators want answers from Trump on Iran MORE (R-Fla.).

Efforts to support Guaidó's claim hinge on getting enough high-ranking government officers, particularly from the military, to switch allegiances.

But Padrino consistently tweeted Tuesday in support of Maduro, directly blaming the political opposition for the shooting of a colonel in his command.

“It’s a very delicate moment,” Bolton said. “I want to stress again that the president wants to see a peaceful transfer of power from Maduro to Guaidó. The possibility still exists if enough figures depart from the regime and support the opposition and that’s what we’d like to see.”

Asked whether the administration was providing any other support other than words, Bolton replied that “we are providing support in a variety of respects,” including humanitarian assistance and “a lot of others things, some of which I’m not going to talk about.”

Bolton also said the uprising was “clearly not a coup.”

“We recognize Juan Guaidó as the legitimate interim president of Venezuela. And just as it's not a coup when the president of the United States gives an order to the Department of Defense, it's not a coup for Juan Guaidó to try and take command of the Venezuelan military.”

Maduro supporters, meanwhile, have likened the U.S.-backed uprising to 2002's coup against then-President Hugo Chávez, which ultimately helped strengthen the Bolivarian government.

Professor Paul W. Posner, a Venezuela expert at Clark University, warned that explicit support from the Trump administration could get in the way of Guaidó solidifying support among the public and the military.

"To accomplish these objectives, the Trump administration needs avoid making any public pronouncements. Pence has already expressed support for the coup. If the U.S. wants the opposition to succeed and to be seen as legitimate, it must avoid overt interference, including making pronouncements on Twitter!" Posner wrote in an email.

Rafael Bernal contributed.