US tells Maduro, Guaidó to 'step aside' in Venezuela

US tells Maduro, Guaidó to 'step aside' in Venezuela
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Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoChinese state media: Wuhan conducted 6.5 million coronavirus tests in 9 days The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Americans debate life under COVID-19 risks The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip MORE on Tuesday called for a new "pathway to democracy" for Venezuela that includes both the embattled president and U.S.-backed opposition leader stepping aside in favor of a transitional government and new elections.

The proposed pathway appears to be a departure from the Trump administration’s consistent backing of Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president against the continued rule of Nicolás Maduro, whom the U.S. views as an illegitimate dictator.

But Pompeo on Tuesday said the U.S. stands firmly behind Guaidó and has worked closely with the political leader to remove Maduro from power.

“We worked closely with him,” the secretary said in a briefing at the State Department. “We all — Juan Guaidó and his entire team — understand that Nicolás Maduro must go."

“We continue to remain normally supportive of the work that the rightful president of the Venezuelan people Juan Guaidó is engaged in,” Pompeo added.

The U.S. proposal comes as Venezuela finds itself wholly unprepared to respond to an outbreak of the coronavirus in a country with a crippled economy and health care system.

The announcement comes as the U.S. Department of Justice last week announced criminal charges against Maduro and 13 other current and former Venezuelan political officials on allegations of narco-terrorism, corruption and drug trafficking.

The proposed pathway also follows a dramatic change in the country’s state-owned oil market, with Russia’s largest oil producer Rosneft selling its assets in Venezuela to an unnamed entity owned by the Russian government.

That move hit Maduro's bottom line, as Rosneft was the only major remaining global distributor of Venezuelan oil.

Pompeo on Tuesday called for Venezuela’s National Assembly to establish a “council of state” consisting of representatives from four major parties in the country and electing a fifth member to act as interim president ahead of new elections.

“We hope that every Venezuelan will consider this framework carefully, thoughtfully and seriously,” Pompeo said. “We think it presents an opportunity for the Venezuelan people.”

Other conditions of the framework include the departure of foreign security forces, release of all political prisoners, return of exiled political leaders and allowing international observers for national elections, among other conditions.

The U.S. is prepared to lift all sanctions if conditions are met.

The plan was also previewed in an editorial by U.S. Special Envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams and published in The Wall Street Journal. Abrams called on Guaidó and Maduro to “step aside.”

“We present this framework as a path for Venezuela to emerge from years of repression and political conflict,” he wrote. “It proposes that both Mr. Maduro, the former president who has clung to power, and Juan Guaidó, the interim president, step aside so that the elected members of the National Assembly from both sides can create a Council of State to serve as the transitional government, which would hold free and fair presidential elections.”

Rafael Bernal contributed to this report.