Venezuela's self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido has refused to rule out the possibility of sanctioning a US intervention to drive out the country's incumbent President Nicolas Maduro and end the humanitarian crisis.
His comments come on the heels of reports that the United States is engaged in direct contacts with members of Venezuela's military encouraging them to pledge allegiance to Guaido and is working on new sanctions to ramp up pressure on Nicolas Maduro.
Reuters cited a senior White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as claiming that the Trump administration expected more servicemen to abandon Maduro, even though only a few officers have chosen to side with Guaido since he declared himself Venezuela's interim president on 23 January.
"We believe these to be those first couple pebbles before we start really seeing bigger rocks rolling down the hill. We're still having conversations with members of the former Maduro regime, with military members, although those conversations are very, very limited", the official said, although declined to provide further details on the discussions or the level at which they are being held.
According to the Reuters source, the US government believes that its transatlantic allies are likely to put more effort to stop Maduro from transferring or hiding Venezuelan government assets held outside the country.
Currently, the Trump administration is preparing a new round of possible sanctions on Caracas, the official claimed.
Another US official and a person familiar with the deliberations told Reuters that Washington was also considering sanctions on Cuban military and intelligence officials who are allegedly helping Maduro to remain in power.
Earlier this week, US National Security Adviser John Bolton took to Twitter to announce that Washington would consider lifting sanctions on senior Venezuelan military officers if they recognise Guaido:
The U.S. will consider sanctions off-ramps for any Venezuelan senior military officer that stands for democracy and recognizes the constitutional government of President Juan Guaido. If not, the international financial circle will be closed off completely. Make the right choice!— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) 6 February 2019
All eyes have been on Venezuela since Guaido, the head of the opposition-led National Assembly, proclaimed himself the South American country's interim president in late January in a move swiftly recognised by the United States and a handful of its allies, blasting the May presidential elections in Venezuela as sham.
Besides the introduction of sweeping oil sanctions and financial restrictions on the Maduro government and state-run oil and gas company PDVSA, Trump stated that a military intervention in Venezuela was "an option".
In an interview with Sputnik, Maduro, who has launched a signature-gathering campaign against US interference, stressed that the main objective behind Washington's involvement in Venezuela was the fact that the country has the biggest oil reserves in the world.