Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself the country's Interim President after he received a call on Tuesday from US Vice President Mike Pence, who pledged Washington's support for Guaido, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports.
The WSJ cited an unnamed senior US administration official as saying that Pence promised that the White House would back Guaido if "he seized the reins of government" from President Nicolas Maduro by invoking a clause in Venezuela's constitution.
The source claimed that Pence's late-night call was part of Washington's secret plan it had developed over several weeks to try to oust Maduro and recognise Guaido as Venezuela's Interim President.
The source referred to previous talks between "US officials, allies, lawmakers and key representatives of the Venezuelan opposition, including with Guaido himself".
Trump had long perceived Venezuela as one of his top three foreign policy priorities, including Iran and North Korea, the source claimed, adding that the White House's plan to topple Maduro was partly driven by key members of the Trump administration in the National Security Council and anti-Maduro advocates in Congress.
"In late December/early January, they [administration officials] started talking to the [Venezuelan] opposition. The opposition at this point believed, and told US officials, that they needed the international community's backing to affect the political dynamic inside Venezuela", the source said.
On 2 January, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Colombian President Ivan Duque allegedly spoke about how they could "collaborate with regional and international partners to help those who are fleeing Venezuela and return Venezuela to its democratic heritage".
On January 10, Pompeo held talks with Guaido and pledged US support "to work on a path to a democratic future for his country". Shortly after, the US State Department said in a statement related to Venezuela that "it is time to begin the orderly transition to a new government", according to the source.
On Wednesday, Guaido declared himself the country's Interim President, with the US, Canada, and allies in Latin America recognising the politician as such. Caracas responded by announcing that it would be breaking off relations with the United States.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, for his part, described the US policy toward Venezuela as "destructive", adding that Moscow considers Washington's open calls for insurrection in the Latin American country "unacceptable".