NEW YORK, Sept 18 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump and several Latin American leaders will discuss over dinner on Monday how to bring pressure to bear on the Venezuelan government to restore democracy in the oil-producing nation, officials said.
Trump has invited Presidents Michel Temer of Brazil, Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, Juan Carlos Varela of Panama and Argentine Vice President Gabriela Michetti to the dinner on the sidelines of the annual gathering of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly.
Differences over ethanol trade, open-skies aviation and illegal drug production, and even North Korea, could crop up during the discussion, but the top issue will be the Venezuelan crisis, Latin American and White House officials said.
“What we all want is for Venezuela to become a democracy again and we are exerting all the pressure we can for that to happen. Tonight we will talk to Trump about that,” Santos said in an interview with Bloomberg News Agency.
Santos said discussion would focus on how best to pressure the Socialist government of Nicolás Maduro to allow a “hopefully peaceful democratic transition in Venezuela.”
At least 125 people have been killed in four months of protests against the Maduro government, which has resisted calls to bring forward the presidential election and instead set up a pro-Maduro legislative superbody called a Constituent Assembly that has overruled the country’s opposition-led Congress.
The Trump administration has imposed financial sanctions on Venezuela and Trump has called for tougher action, but Latin American leaders have stuck to diplomatic sanctions and ruled out the use of force, an option Trump has mentioned.
“We have told Trump that military intervention is not on the agenda for any Latin American country,” Santos told Bloomberg. “That would only worsen the situation.”
Last week, Trump upset Colombia, the South American nation with the closest ties to Washington, by threatening to blacklist it for failing to stop a surge in cocaine production.
Speaking at New York’s Columbia University on Monday, Santos said peace accords he reached with leftist guerrillas were allowing his government to move into areas where the drug is produced and destroy coca-leaf crops.
Trump could complain about a 20 percent tariff Brazil recently slapped on imports of ethanol over and above 600,000 liters a year, most of which come from the United States.
He could also press Brazil’s Temer to cut off ties with North Korea, since Brazil is one of the last Latin American countries that maintains an embassy in Pyongyang. (Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Peter Cooney)