Trump envoy skips Argentina inauguration, fires warning over Venezuela

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - A senior adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump skipped the inauguration of Argentine President Alberto Fernandez and work meetings also planned for Wednesday, unhappy with the presence of officials from the government of Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro.

The U.S. special envoy, Mauricio Claver-Carone, told local newspaper Clarin that he had left early after being “surprised” at the presence of guests including Venezuelan Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez.

The comments were confirmed by a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, who said no scheduled meetings had been canceled.

The United States and many Western nations have called for Maduro to step down as president and have recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s legitimate president.

Peronist leader Fernandez faces a diplomatic juggling act between the United States and leftist allies including Venezuela. His vice president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, was close with Maduro at the end of her 2007-2015 twin terms.

“Unfortunately, due to some invitations and some surprises we received upon arrival, I decided not to go and I am leaving early,” Claver-Carone told Clarin. “I will not have the work meetings I had scheduled for tomorrow.”

The envoy said that ties with Maduro “do not bring any benefits to Argentina,” which he said should focus on “how they can work bilaterally with us and with other allies.”

The U.S. imposed sanctions on Rodriguez and other members of Maduro’s inner circle in September 2018.

Other U.S. officials did attend the inauguration and meet with Fernandez, including Health Secretary Alex Azar and Michael Kozak, the U.S. acting assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.

The U.S. Embassy spokesman said that Azar and Claver-Carone had left Argentina, while Kozak remained and met with Fernandez and his Foreign Minister Felipe Sola on Wednesday.

Argentine’s former conservative leader, Mauricio Macri, who handed over power to Fernandez on Tuesday, had been a close ally of the United States over Venezuela.

Fernandez has been cautious with his stance over the Maduro government though he has emphasized ties with other leftist politicians in the region including Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Bolivia’s unseated leader, Evo Morales, and former Brazilian leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel and Ecuador’s former president Rafael Correa were also present at the inauguration, while Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro did not attend, instead sending his vice president.

Reporting by Adam Jourdan, Cassandra Garrison, Hugh Bronstein; additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington; editing by Steve Orlofsky, Nick Macfie and Leslie Adler