WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration is deploying U.S. Navy ships closer to Venezuela to beef up anti-drug efforts following a U.S. drug trafficking indictment against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, according to a U.S. official and two other people familiar with the matter.
The U.S. government is expected on Wednesday to announce the start of the enhanced drug interdiction mission in the Caribbean, the sources said on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
It follows the indictment last week of Maduro and more than a dozen current and former officials on charges of narco-terrorism and drug trafficking, part of the Trump administration's pressure campaign aimed at ousting the socialist leader.
On Tuesday, however, The Trump administration offered to begin lifting Venezuela sanctions if the opposition and members of Maduro's Socialist Party form an interim government without him, marking a shift in a U.S. policy that has failed to end his grip on power.
The naval deployment is intended to ratchet up pressure on Maduro and his allies but is not a prelude to U.S. military action against Venezuela, one person familiar with the matter said.
Although President Donald Trump has insisted that all options are on the table against Muduro, U.S. officials have made clear there is little appetite for military force, which could entangle the United States in another foreign conflict.
The deployment plan calls for the U.S. Southern Command to move several Navy vessels toward Venezuela, according to one source familiar with the matter. But the sources said it was unclear how close they would get to the Venezuelan coast.
Admiral Craig Faller, head of U.S. Southern Command, told a Pentagon briefing earlier in March that there would be an increased U.S. military presence in the hemisphere to counter narco-trafficking.
Some U.S. officials have privately said Trump was increasingly frustrated with the results of his Venezuela policy.
The United States and dozens of other countries have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate president, regarding Maduro's 2018 re-election as a sham. But Maduro has remained in power, backed by the country's military and by Russia, China and Cuba.