Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro has no authority to sever relations with the United States, the State Department said Wednesday, hitting back after the leftist leader gave American diplomats 72 hours to leave the country.
"The United States does not recognize the Maduro regime as the government of Venezuela," a statement said.
"Accordingly the United States does not consider former president Nicolas Maduro to have the legal authority to break diplomatic relations with the United States or to declare our diplomats persona non grata."
The statement added that Washington, which backed opposition-led legislature head Juan Guaido's decision to proclaim himself "acting president," welcomed the new leader's decision to maintain diplomatic relations with all countries.
"The United States stands with interim President Juan Guaido, the democratically elected National Assembly, and the people of Venezuela as they peacefully restore constitutional order to their country.
"We stand ready to support interim President Guaido as he establishes a transitional government and carries out his constitutional duties as interim President, including determining the status of diplomatic representatives in the United States and other countries."
It closed with a call for the Venezuelan military, whose support is crucial for Maduro to maintain his hold on power, "to continue protecting the welfare and well-being of all Venezuelan citizens, as well as U.S. and other foreign citizens in Venezuela."
"The United States will take appropriate actions to hold accountable anyone who endangers the safety and security of our mission and its personnel," the statement warned.
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