U.S. rejects Maduro decision to sever diplomatic ties

WASHINGTON, Jan 23 (Reuters) - The United States on Wednesday rejected a move by Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro to break diplomatic ties, saying it did not think he had the authority to cut ties and it would conduct relations with a government led by opposition leader Juan Guaido.

"The United States maintains diplomatic relations with Venezuela and will conduct our relations with Venezuela through the government of interim President Guaido, who has invited our mission to remain in Venezuela," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

"The United States does not recognize the Maduro regime as the government of Venezuela. Accordingly the United States does not consider former president Nicolas Maduro to have the legal authority to break diplomatic relations."

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Venezuela's political crisis
Anti-government protesters hold their hands up during the symbolic swearing-in of Juan Guaido, head of the opposition-run congress who declared himself interim president of Venezuela until elections can be called, during a rally demanding President Nicolas Maduro's resignation in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. Venezuela's crisis quickly escalated as the opposition leader backed by the Trump administration declared himself interim president in a direct challenge to Maduro, who retaliated by breaking off relations with the United States, his biggest trade partner. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
Juan Guaido, head of Venezuela's opposition-run congress, declares himself interim president of the nation until elections can be held during a rally demanding President Nicolas Maduro's resignation in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
An anti-government protester covers her face with a Venezuelan flag, and uses toothpaste around her eyes to help lessen the effect of tear gas, during clashes with security forces after a rally demanding the resignation of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. The head of Venezuela's opposition-run congress declared himself interim president at the rally, until new elections can be called. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks to supporters from the balcony of Miraflores presidential palace during a rally in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. At a competing rally, opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president until new elections can be held, to which Maduro responded by cutting off diplomatic relations with the United States and said American diplomats had 72 hours to leave the country. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks to his supporters from a balcony at Miraflores presidential palace during a rally in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. At a competing rally, opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president until new elections can be held, to which Maduro responded by cutting off diplomatic relations with the United States and said American diplomats had 72 hours to leave the country. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
Venezuelans protest in support of Juan Guaido, head of the opposition-run congress, after he proclaimed himself the country's interim president, in Lima, Peru, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. Venezuela's crisis quickly escalated as the opposition leader backed by the Trump administration declared himself interim president in a direct challenge to Maduro, who retaliated by breaking off relations with the United States, his biggest trade partner. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)
Anti-government protesters show a sign that reads in Spanish "Guaido President of Venezuela" after a rally demanding the resignation of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. The head of Venezuela's opposition-run congress declared himself interim president at the rally, until new elections can be called.(AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
Venezuelans protest outside the Venezuelan embassy in Mexico City, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. Venezuelan migrants held a rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and in favor of Juan Guaido, head of Venezuela's opposition-run congress who today declared himself interim president of the South American nation. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)
Venezuelan anti-government protesters hold their national flag as they block traffic during a demonstration in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. Venezuelan migrants held a rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and in favor of Juan Guaido, head of Venezuela's opposition-run congress who today declared himself interim president of the South American nation. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)
Venezuelans protest in support of Juan Guaido, head of the opposition-run congress, after he proclaimed himself the country's interim president, in Lima, Peru, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. Venezuela's crisis quickly escalated as the opposition leader backed by the Trump administration declared himself interim president in a direct challenge to Maduro, who retaliated by breaking off relations with the United States, his biggest trade partner. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)
A Bolivarian National Guard soldier shouts at anti-government protesters to leave the streets during clashes after an anti-government rally demanding the resignation of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. The head of Venezuela's opposition-run congress declared himself interim president at the rally, until new elections can be called. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
Venezuelan anti-government protesters shout against Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro and in support of an opposition leader who declared himself interim president, outside the Venezuelan embassy in Quito, Ecuador, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. Venezuelan migrants are rallying in favor of Juan Guaido, head of Venezuela's opposition-run congress, who today declared himself interim president of the South American nation. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)
Venezuelan anti-government protesters hold signs against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro during a demonstration in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. Hundreds of people, mostly Venezuelan migrants, held a rally against Maduro and in favor of Juan Guaido, head of Venezuela's opposition-run congress who today proclaimed himself president of the South American nation. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
A Venezuelan anti-government protester holds a Venezuelan flag during a demonstration in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. Hundreds of people, mostly Venezuelan migrants, held a rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and in favor of Juan Guaido, head of Venezuela's opposition-run congress who today proclaimed himself president of the South American nation. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
A Venezuelan anti-government protester holds a Venezuelan flag during a demonstration in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. Hundreds of people, mostly Venezuelan migrants, held a rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and in favor of Juan Guaido, head of Venezuela's opposition-run congress who today proclaimed himself president of the South American nation. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Venezuelan Bolivarian National Guardsmen look for anti-government protesters after a rally demanding the resignation of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. The head of Venezuela's opposition-run congress declared himself interim president at the rally, until new elections can be called. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
An anti-government protester who was overcome by tear gas is aided by a paramedic during clashes after a rally demanding the resignation of President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. The head of Venezuela's opposition-run congress declared himself interim president at the rally, until new elections can be called.(AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
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Guaido declared himself interim president on Wednesday, winning the backing of Washington and many Latin American nations and prompting Maduro, who has led the oil-rich nation since 2013, to break relations with the United States and to give U.S. diplomats 72 hours to leave the country.

Pompeo, however, suggested that U.S. diplomats planned to stay put and he demanded the Venezuelan military and security forces "continue protecting ... all Venezuelan citizens, as well as U.S. and other foreign citizens in Venezuela.

"We call on all parties to refrain from measures that are inconsistent with the privileges and immunities enjoyed by members of the diplomatic community," he said.

"The United States will take appropriate actions to hold accountable anyone who endangers the safety and security of our mission and its personnel," he added.

(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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