CARACAS - The Venezuelan government has lashed out at some member states of the European Union (EU) over their move to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as the leader of the Latin American country.
The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Monday that the government would reconsider diplomatic ties with 13 EU members over the matter, accusing them of signing up on a "coup" plot by Washington to topple President Nicolas Maduro.
The Venezuelan government "expresses its most energetic rejection of the decision adopted by some European governments, in which they officially submit to the US administration's strategy to overthrow the legitimate government of President Nicolas Maduro," the statement said.
Caracas "will fully review bilateral relations with these governments from now, until there is a rectification that renounces support for the plans for a coup," it added.
Venezuela has been in political turmoil in the past couple of months, with the opposition blaming Maduro for an ailing economy, hyperinflation, power cuts, and shortages of basic items. Political crisis deepened in Venezuela on January 23, when Guaido proclaimed himself the "interim president" of the country.
EU members Britain, Germany, France, and Spain earlier gave an eight-day ultimatum to Caracas to hold a new presidential election or see Europe recognize Guaido. Caracas rejected the ultimatum.
As that deadline passed on Monday, several EU member states, including Spain, France, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, and Austria, announced their recognition of Guaido as "acting president" of Venezuela. The US, along with a number of its Latin American allies, had already recognized Guaido as such.
Russia, China, Turkey, and Iran, among other countries, have however supported the elected government of Maduro, warning against foreign meddling in Venezuela's domestic affairs.
Italy blocks EU statement recognizing Guaido
Meanwhile, the Italian government reportedly blocked an EU statement on Monday that would have recognized Guaido as the leader of Venezuela.
Rome blocked the EU statement meant to recognize Guaido as Venezuela's interim leader if President Maduro fails to set up snap elections, according to a source in Italy's anti-establishment Five-Star Movement.
The source said Italy had earlier announced the veto at an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Romania on January 31.
There has been internal discord within the EU over how to address Venezuela's political crisis.
EU mulling more sanctions on Venezuela
Meanwhile, the EU is said to be considering the imposition of "further sanctions" on Venezuelan officials – but not on its oil sector.
"We are looking at the possibility of further sanctions; our intention is for more sanctions on certain individuals rather than on sectors that might have an effect on the population," Malta's Foreign Minister Carmelo Abela told Reuters following a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
"Having further (sectoral) sanctions is not excluded; but, primarily, we are focused on certain individuals," he added.
The 28-member bloc has previously imposed a set of economic sanctions against crisis-hit Venezuela.
UN not to join Venezuela crisis talks: Guterres
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced on Monday that the world body would not join any group of nations seeking to resolve the crisis in Venezuela, indicating he would not attend a meeting in Uruguay this week of several neutral countries.
Mexico and Uruguay had hoped that the UN chief would attend a conference in Montevideo on February 7, which is aimed at promoting dialog between Venezuela's legitimate president, Maduro, and opposition leader Guaido.
"The UN secretariat has decided not to be part of any of these groups in order to give credibility to our continued offer of good offices to the parties to be able at their request to help find a political solution," Guterres said.
The UN chief, however, said he was following the crisis in Venezuela "with a lot of concern," adding that he had discussed the various initiatives put forward with the countries involved.
Venezuela's Maduro writes to Pope for help
Also on Monday, President Maduro announced in an Italian TV interview that he had written to Pope Francis and asked him to help mediate in his country's crisis.
"I sent a letter to Pope Francis. I told him that I serve Christ's cause... and in this spirit, I asked for his help, in a process of facilitating and strengthening dialog," Maduro told Italy's SkyTG24 television.
"I ask the Pope to put in his best effort, his will, to help on the path of dialog. I hope to receive a positive response," he added.
The pontiff is currently on a visit to the United Arab Emirates and is due to return to Rome on Tuesday.