Switzerland to represent US interests in Venezuela

The State Department on Friday said it reached an agreement with Switzerland to represent U.S. interests in Venezuela as a power struggle roils the South American country.

“The United States extends our deepest appreciation to the Swiss for offering to undertake this important function and assist U.S. citizens on our behalf,” the State Department said in a statement, while noting that the Swiss cannot provide services until the arrangement is “operative.”

The State Department said that for the time being, U.S. citizens in Venezuela who require emergency assistance should go to the nearest U.S. Embassy or consulate in another country.

The U.S. issued a travel warning earlier this year urging its citizens not to travel to Venezuela and for any citizens in the country to leave immediately. The State Department announced last month that it was withdrawing the last of its embassy personnel in the country.

Venezuela is mired in a leadership conflict between President Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guaidó, whom the U.S. and much of the international community has recognized as the country’s interim president.

Street demonstrations have turned violent across the country, and security forces aligned with Maduro recently detained Guaidó’s chief of staff. Tensions increased recently when Russia sent troops to Venezuela to support Maduro. Venezuelan Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Gil on Thursday said even more could be on the way.

The U.S. responded by warning against Russian troop deployments to Venezuela.

“We will consider such provocative actions as a direct threat to international peace and security in the region. We will continue to defend and protect the interests of the United States, and those of our partners in the Western Hemisphere,” national security adviser John Bolton said.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpImpeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent Feds say marijuana ties could prevent immigrants from getting US citizenship Trump approval drops to 2019 low after Mueller report's release: poll MORE said last month that the Kremlin “has to get out” of Venezuela.

He has also maintained that a military option regarding the conflict is still on the table.

The White House has slapped sanctions on Maduro’s allies and said Wednesday that it is preparing a recovery package to bolster the Venezuelan economy should Maduro leave office.