Venezuela's self-proclaimed acting president Juan Guaido refused to rule out the possibility of authorizing United States intervention to help force President Nicolas Maduro from power and alleviate a humanitarian crisis.
National Assembly leader Guaido told AFP he would do "everything that is necessary... to save human lives," acknowledging that US intervention is "a very controversial subject."
The opposition leader launched a bid to oust Maduro last month, declaring himself interim president, a move recognized by the US and around 40 other countries, including 20 from the European Union.
Under Maduro's stewardship, oil-rich Venezuela's economy has collapsed leaving the country wracked by hyperinflation, recession and shortages of basic necessities such as food and medicine.
He is trying to bring in food and medicines from the US but the supplies are stuck in warehouses in Colombia because the Venezuelan military has blocked their entry.
Earlier, Maduro vowed not to let in "fake humanitarian aid" and claimed Venezuela's crisis has been "fabricated by Washington" to justify intervention.
Guaido says 300,000 people could die if desperately-needed aid isn't brought in.
Guaido has dismissed Maduro as illegitimate over his reelection last May in polls branded a fraud by the US, EU and many Latin American countries.
Meanwhile, a senior White House official said that The United States was holding direct communications with members of Venezuela's military urging them to abandon Maduro and is also preparing new sanctions aimed at increasing pressure on him,
The Trump administration expects further military defections from Maduro's side, the official told Reuters in an interview, despite only a few senior officers having done so.
"We believe these to be those first couple pebbles before we start really seeing bigger rocks rolling down the hill," the official said this week, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official declined to provide details on the discussions or the level at which they are being held, and it was unclear whether such contacts could create cracks in the Venezuelan socialist leader's support from the military, which is pivotal to his grip on power.