(Corrects quote in paragraph 9 to add word ‘not’)
By Lesley Wroughton
WASHINGTON, Jan 30 (Reuters) - The U.S. envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, cautioned socialist President Nicolas Maduro that acting against self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido would be an “extremely foolish move.”
Speaking on Wednesday, days after being named the U.S. point person for Venezuela by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Abrams said the United States would keep up pressure on Maduro to step down by applying further sanctions and searching for assets such as bank accounts and gold holdings.
“The security of interim president Guaido is a concern,” Abrams told a group of reporters.
“The regime has not acted against him in some time and I hope that is because they recognize that he has the support of the vast majority of Venezuelans, and that would be an extremely foolish move for the regime to make.”
Washington has backed Guaido in his push to force Maduro from power. Maduro, who is supported by Russia and China, has barred Guaido from leaving Venezuela and frozen his assets. Many opposition leaders have been imprisoned in Venezuela in recent years.
Abrams emphasized that unseating Maduro, who still has the backing of the military, could take time.
Asked whether Washington may have underestimated the military’s support for Maduro, Abrams said: “This may well be, and the democratic forces believe it can be, a turning point. That doesn’t mean its going to happen this week and we’re not picking dates.”
He said oil sanctions imposed by Washington earlier this week were aimed at safeguarding Venezuela’s assets.
The United States and other countries were searching for other possible Venezuelan assets around the world, including bank accounts and gold holdings, he said. “Obviously if they have an account in Moscow we’re not going to get at it,” he added.
Abrams said there were discussions about ramping up aid to Venezuelans, including through a “humanitarian corridor” into the country. He did not give logistical details as to how such a scheme would operate.
“The humanitarian corridor is something we’re looking at, but of course it requires the cooperation of the regime,” he said. “I don’t know how practical that is. It hasn’t been possible to date.” (Reporting by Lesley Wroughton, Additional reporting by Makini Brice Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Rosalba O’Brien)