Trump Envoy Tried to Secretly Negotiate Maduro Exit
By Jennifer Jacobs and Ben Bartenstein
October 24, 2020 "Information Clearing House" - (Bloomberg) - An influential Trump administration official secretly met with a representative of Nicolas Maduro’s regime in Mexico City in September to try to negotiate the Venezuelan leader’s peaceful exit from power.
Richard Grenell, the former Acting U.S. director of National Intelligence and ambassador to Germany, and Jorge Rodriguez, a Venezuelan politician who is close to Maduro, met in the Mexican capital, according to four people familiar with the matter. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and the rest of the State Department weren’t told about the trip beforehand, according to two of the people.
Grenell sought to discuss Maduro’s departure, two of the people said, but it isn’t clear if Rodriguez and Maduro were open to the possibility. In any event, the talks weren’t successful, the people said.
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President Donald Trump has tried to achieve a number of foreign policy accomplishments before the Nov. 3 election, including Middle East peace agreements, troop withdrawals from several countries and the release of U.S. hostages believed to be held in Syria.
U.S. officials gave conflicting accounts on whether Grenell’s trip to meet Rodriguez was authorized, although two people familiar with the matter said Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, signed off on it with the president’s blessing.
But Pompeo and the State Department’s envoy for Venezuela didn’t know about Grenell’s trip until after it was over. The U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Christopher Landau, also wasn’t briefed in advance of the travel, according to a person close to him.
Rodriguez flew to Mexico late on Sept. 16 aboard one of Venezuela’s presidential planes disguised on the flight log as a trip by the national airline Conviasa, according to one person familiar with his travel.
Francisco Arias Cardenas, the Maduro-appointed Venezuelan Ambassador to Mexico who once led a failed 1992 coup with former President Hugo Chavez, asked Mexico’s Foreign Ministry for last minute flight changes that allowed for Rodriguez to enter the country, one of the people said. While Rodriguez was allowed in, the meeting was not arranged through its presidential office or foreign ministry.
Rodriguez declined to comment, as did spokespeople for the White House National Security Council and the State Department.
The people familiar with the Venezuela talks asked not to be identified because they were never announced.
The Trump campaign has been courting Venezuelans who fled their country and became U.S. citizens. Many live in Florida, a battleground state where elections are often decided by slim margins.
— With assistance by Nick Wadhams, and Patricia Laya
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