During a meeting about diplomatic sanctions the United States were enacting on the autocratic government of Venezuela, Donald Trump asked several close foreign policy advisors whether invading Venezuela should or should not happen.
He alluded to reports in the USA press which said that last August Trump asked foreign policy advisers about the possibility of invading Venezuela, which the Trump administration has derided as a corrupt, leftwing dictatorship.
His national security chief, HR McMaster, and secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, are said to have been shocked by his suggestion, according to reports. This account of the previously undisclosed conversation came from a senior administration official familiar with what was said.
Tillerson and McMaster vehemently opposed the notion, advising the president that the mere suggestion of force would risk losing hard-won support and political capital amongst Latin American governments now riding a natural crest of opposition to Nicolas Maduro's already embattled regime as Venezuela's situation worsens.
President Donald Trump floated the idea of an invasion of Venezuela, a source for The Independent reports.
It was reportedly the next day after this meeting, when Trump infamously threatened Caracas with "military option", provoking outrage both in Venezuela and overseas. The public remarks were initially dismissed in USA policy circles as the sort of martial bluster people have come to expect from the reality TV star turned commander in chief.
But shortly afterward, he raised the issue with Santos, according to the USA official.
Mr Trump also mentioned the proposal with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, the AP reported, and in September spoke to leaders of four Latin American countries at the United Nations General Assembly about it.
"President J. trump turned to his senior advisers and asked who shot down all confused question: if crisis-prone Venezuela threatens USA national security, why the United States can't just enter military in this troubled country?" the official said, who was present during the consultation. Trump then went around asking each leader if they were sure they didn't want a military solution, according to the official, who added that each leader told Trump in clear terms they were sure.
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They said they were sure, and McMaster eventually managed to persuade Trump of the dangers of an invasion, the AP report says.
The White house declined to comment on the subject.
Trump publicly raised the possibility of intervention in a speech a year ago, saying: "We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary". However, a National Security Council spokesman told AP that the U.S. still considers all options at its disposal to help "restore Venezuela's democracy".
The US, Canada and the European Union have slapped sanctions on Maduro and dozens of Venezuela officials over allegations of corruption, drug trafficking and human rights abuses. "We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary".
"No, it is not a coincidence", Maduro said.
Speaking to the press at his New Jersey golf course at Bedminsiter, he said: "We have many options for Venezuela, this is our neighbour".
The White House announced later it had refused to take a call from Maduro.
Even some of the staunchest US allies were begrudgingly forced to side with Maduro in condemning Trump's saber rattling. "The concern is that it raised expectations among Venezuelans, many of whom are waiting for an external actor to save them".