WASHINGTON DC - U.S. President Donald Trump, in a shock move, has formally recognized the head of the Venezuela National Assembly as the country's interim president.
Mr Trump on Wednesday declared the presidency of Nicolas Maduro as illegitimate.
The unprecedented and extraordinary action by the United States actually puts the Trump declaration at odds with the National Assembly which has declared the office of the president vacant.
Issuing a statement saying he wanted to see democracy restored, Mr Trump was in fact defacto appointing, in U.S. terms at least, his interim nominee as president, and went a step further in calling on other nations to do the same.
"Today, I am officially recognizing the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the Interim President of Venezuela," Mr Trump said in his statement published on Wednesday.
"In its role as the only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people, the National Assembly invoked the country's constitution to declare Nicolas Maduro illegitimate, and the office of the presidency therefore vacant."
"The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law," said Trump.
Mr Trump's announcement followed a declaration by Guaido just minutes earlier. It is unkown if the two announcements were coordinated.
"I swear to assume all the powers of the presidency to secure an end to the usurpation," Guaido told protestors who were demonstrating against the Maduro government on Wednesday.
Guaido would have been emboldened to receive the backing of the world's only superpower minutes later, and to have that nation calling on the international community to follow suit.
"I will continue to use the full weight of United States economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy. We encourage other Western Hemisphere governments to recognize National Assembly President Guaido as the Interim President of Venezuela, and we will work constructively with them in support of his efforts to restore constitutional legitimacy," the U.S. president said. "We continue to hold the illegitimate Maduro regime directly responsible for any threats it may pose to the safety of the Venezuelan people.
"As Interim President Guaido noted yesterday: 'Violence is the usurper's weapon; we only have one clear action: to remain united and firm for a democratic and free Venezuela,'" the American president's statement said.
President Maduro, on being informed of Mr Trump's announcement, ordered diplomatic relations between Venezuela and the United States be terminated. He said officials and staff at the U.S. embassy in Caracas will be given 72 hours to leave the country.