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U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks next to Argentina's President Mauricio Macri during a news conference at the Olivos Presidential Residence in Buenos Aires, Argentina August 15, 2017. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci(reuters_tickers)
By Luc Cohen
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said in Buenos Aires on Tuesday he was confident about reaching a "peaceable" solution for Venezuela through economic and diplomatic pressure on the country's president, Nicolas Maduro.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Argentina's centre-right President Mauricio Macri, Pence said they had agreed in closed-door talks on the need to keep up pressure on Maduro for elections and the release of political prisoners.
As in Colombia, his first stopover on a Latin American tour, Pence struck a more conciliatory tone than U.S. President Donald Trump, who threatened military intervention in Venezuela last week to resolve the political crisis in the OPEC member.
Still, Pence reiterated that Venezuela was "sliding into dictatorship and the United States would not stand by" while that happened.
"The U.S. has many options and reserves those options in Venezuela," he said.
On Monday, Pence said he and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos had discussed possible further sanctions against the leftist-ruled country.
The United States imposed sanctions on Maduro and other Venezuelan officials in July after Maduro established a constituent assembly run by his Socialist Party loyalists to expand his powers amid a crackdown on political opposition groups.
Trump's threat on Friday of military action in Venezuela was widely condemned across the region and sparked the Mercosur trade bloc, of which Argentina is a member, to reject any use of force.
Macri, a longtime critic of Maduro, said on Tuesday political pressure rather than the use of force was the path forward to address the situation in Venezuela.
Pence applauded Macri's "bold reform agenda" in his remarks and said he and the Argentine leader had spoken of increasing two-way trade during their meeting, particularly in agricultural goods.
He said officials had spoken in the last week about expanding access of American pork to the Argentine market and had made "great progress."
"We also discussed the interest in exporting and importing beef on both sides," Pence said.
He did not answer a question about a U.S. Commerce Department investigation into alleged dumping and unfair subsidies of biodiesel fuels from Argentina.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen; Additional reporting by Maximilian Heath; Writing by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Tom Brown)