Trump says would meet Venezuela's Maduro only to discuss exit

US President Donald Trump said the coronavirus death toll in the US could surpass 150,000

US President Donald Trump said Monday he would only meet with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to discuss his exit from power.

Trump had said in an interview Sunday that he would "think about" meeting with Maduro, a leftist autocrat whose ouster Washington has pursued with little success since early 2019 despite punishing sanctions and diplomatic pressure.

The president's comments were widely interpreted as a sign of weakening US support for Juan Guaido, the opposition leader who Washington and nearly 60 other countries have backed in a power struggle with Maduro.

On Twitter, however, Trump insisted, "I will ALWAYS stand against socialism and the people of Venezuela."

"I would only meet with Maduro to discuss one thing: a peaceful exit from power!"

Doubts about Trump's support for the Venezuelan opposition leader also were raised by John Bolton in his new tell-all book about his tenure as Trump's national security adviser.

In published excerpts, Bolton wrote that Trump "thought Guaido was 'weak,' as opposed to Maduro, who was 'strong.'"

According to Bolton, Trump also called Guaido "the Beto O'Rourke of Venezuela," the Democratic presidential candidate who dropped out early in the race and was repeatedly mocked by Trump.

Despite tensions between Washington and Maduro's socialist government, Trump told news site Axios he would be open to a meeting with Maduro.

"I would maybe think about that ... Maduro would like to meet. And I'm never opposed to meetings -- you know, rarely opposed to meetings," the president said.

"I always say, you lose very little with meetings. But at this moment, I've turned them down."

Tensions flared even further in May when Venezuela detained 52 alleged mercenaries, including two retired members of the US military, accusing them of orchestrating a maritime "invasion" with US support.

Washington denied any involvement.

But despite his government's consistent backing of the opposition leader, Axios said that during the interview, Trump "indicated he doesn't have much confidence in Guaido."

The president said he was "firmly against what's going on in Venezuela," but -- referring to the recognition of Guaido -- added: "I was OK with it ... I don't think it was very meaningful one way or the other."

US President Donald Trump has said he would consider meeting Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro