WASHINGTON — Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, the national security adviser, at the Pentagon Friday to discuss Venezuela, as U.S. warships moved closer to the region.
The meeting, held in “The Tank,” the most secure room in the Pentagon, came after President Donald Trump held an hour-long phone conversation with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. During that call, Putin denied Russian military troops were on their way to Venezuela, something Pentagon officials believe is happening.
Adm. Craig Faller, head of U.S. Southern Command, was also present in The Tank meeting, according to VOA.
The meeting occurred as U.S. naval assets moved closer to the region and at least one U.S Navy EP-3E Aries II SWORD15, a four-engine, low-wing, electronic warfare and reconnaissance aircraft utilizing state-of-the-art electronic surveillance equipment, tracked off the coast of Venezuela, officials told TMN.
Shanahan confirmed the meeting during a chat Friday with Pentagon reporters but declined to proffer details on options being considered.
Some Pentagon officials told TMN that a naval movement is a way to show action without taking action. Shanahan did not offer insight into that tactic, saying, “There’s a lot of water nearby.”
Shanahan also said he did not believe “we have an intelligence gap” and that “it’s about Maduro and his illegitimate regime.
“There were decisions on our planning and some of the recommendations,” Shanahan told reporters. He said it was “a true review and then making sure that we’re all in alignment.”
Bolton was more forceful in his words.
“The United States will not tolerate foreign military interference in the Western Hemisphere,” Bolton said on Twitter after the meeting. “President Trump has made it clear that there will be costs for those who further Maduro’s usurpation and repression.”
Pompeo and Bolton had said earlier this week that all options are on the table regarding U.S. action on Venezuela. Earlier this week, Shanahan and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, canceled travel plans to Europe in order to remain in Washington due to Venezuela.
The scramble by the White House comes in the aftermath of a seemingly failed coup against President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday. National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó — backed by the U.S. and other nations — called Tuesday for a military mutiny against Maduro.
Following limited clashes between the Venezuelan military and security forces and defectors throughout Caracas on Tuesday and Wednesday, the coup fizzled.
Bolton and others have accused Russia and Cuba of meddling in Venezuela’s internal affairs, including a report that had Russia convincing Maduro not to leave the country on a waiting airplane Tuesday morning.
According to news reports, the White House also is considering asking the Organization of American States to invoke a dormant 1947 Inter-American defense treaty known as TIAR, or the Rio Treaty, which calls for unspecified unified actions against a threat in the hemisphere.