Vice President Mike Pence holds a news briefing Wednesday at...

Vice President Mike Pence holds a news briefing Wednesday at United Nations headquarters in New York City after addressing the UN Security Council on Venezuela. Credit: AP / Bebeto Matthews

UNITED NATIONS — Vice President Mike Pence, calling Venezuela a “failed state,” urged the UN to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the legitimate president of the troubled South American country and to welcome an ambassador of his choosing at the world body.

“The United States of America will continue to exert all diplomatic and economic pressure to bring about peaceful transition to democracy in Venezuela — but all options are on the table,” Pence told the members of the UN Security Council during a meeting on the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

His visit was designed to push for a resolution that would force the UN to recognize Guaidó, but it was unclear whether U.S. officials sought to introduce the resolution in the 193-member General Assembly or the 15-member Security Council, where a previous resolution calling for elections in Venezuela earlier this year was blocked by Russia and China.

Pence called illegitimate the May 2018 election where the hand-picked successor to longtime President Hugo Chávez — Nicolas Máduro — was elected to a second six-year term.

Pence reiterated President Donald Trump’s policy toward Venezuela, which labels Máduro a dictator clinging to power while his people go hungry and die from preventable diseases for lack of medical care. That point was reinforced by the UN’s humanitarian agency chief, Mark Lowcock, and other experts who spoke before Pence.

Lowcock, who heads the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told the Security Council that as many as 7 million people — up to 25 percent of the population — in Venezuela are in need of humanitarian assistance.

He spoke a day after the Organization of American States, a regional group of 34 countries in North and South America and the Caribbean, recognized Guaidó's representative to the body until new elections are held. Pence said as many as 54 nations have formally backed Guaidó.

“Up to this point, while other international bodies have acted, the UN and this Security Council have refused to act,” he said. "The time has come for the United Nations to recognize interim president Juan Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela and seat his representative in this body.”

He said the UN Security Council should “revoke” the credentials of Venezuela’s current ambassador to the UN, Samuel Moncada, who shook his head as Pence turned to him.

“With all due respect, Mr. Ambassador, you shouldn’t be here,” Pence said, addressing Moncada directly. “You should return to Venezuela and tell Nicolas Máduro that his time is up. It’s time for him to go.”

Pence said the United States would continue to work toward Máduro’s ouster but would not say whether military options were being considered.

He did say that the United States had sanctioned more than 150 government officials, organizations and state-owned businesses.

He said the United States had placed 500 metric tons of food and humanitarian supplies on the border of Venezuela, provided $200 million in aid to support displaced Venezuelans and he announced an additional $60 million would be provided in humanitarian assistance.

Russia’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, whose country supports Máduro, said the United States was claiming to help Venezuela while imposing crippling sanctions.

“We categorically reject the methods of the United States,” he said, opposing Pence’s call to revoke Moncada’s credentials and calling the drive to oust him “lawless” and “thuggish” as well as a violation of the norms of international law.

He added: “We call on the United States to once again recognize that the Venezuelan people and other people have the right to determine their own future. If you want to make America great again, and we’re all sincerely interested in seeing that, stop interfering in the affairs of other states. You will only gain respect from that. You don’t like when others interfere in your affairs. No one likes that.”

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