NEW JERSEY, U.S. - Venezuela, that has been gripped by a political crisis, faced a threat by U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday, who said he could order military intervention.
The reaction by Trump was viewed as a surprise escalation of Washington's response to Venezuela's political crisis and was met with angry comments from Caracas, that disparaged it as "craziness."
In recent days, Venezuela has slid toward a more volatile stage of unrest, with anti-government forces looting weapons from a military base after a new legislative body usurped the authority of the opposition-controlled congress.
In an impromptu question and answer session, Trump told reporters, "The people are suffering and they are dying. We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary.”
Caracas was shocked by the comments on Friday and Venezuela's Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino called the threat "an act of craziness."
In a statement, the White House said Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro requested a phone call with Trump on Friday.
It responded saying Trump would gladly speak to Venezuela's leader when democracy was restored in that country.
Authorities in Venezuela have long said U.S. officials were planning an invasion, with a former military general saying earlier this year that some anti-aircraft missiles had been placed along the country's coast for that eventuality.
The Pentagon meanwhile said the U.S. military was ready to support efforts to protect U.S. citizens and America's national interests, but said that insinuations of a planned U.S. invasion of Venezuela were "baseless."
Trump's threats have come in the same week that he has repeatedly threatened a military response if North Korea threatens the United States or its allies.
While Trump has declined to provide details when asked if U.S. forces would lead an operation in Venezuela, he said, "We don't talk about it but a military operation - a military option - is certainly something that we could pursue.”
However, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, criticized Trump's new stance.
He said in a statement, "Congress obviously isn't authorizing war in Venezuela. Nicolas Maduro is a horrible human being, but Congress doesn’t vote to spill Nebraskans' blood based on who the Executive lashes out at today."
In July, the United States sanctioned Maduro and other Venezuelan officials after Maduro established a constituent assembly run by his Socialist Party loyalists and cracked down on opposition figures.