MUNICH — Vice President Mike Pence urged the European Union to denounce Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on Saturday and recognize National Assembly head Juan Guaidó as the country’s leader, increasing diplomatic pressure as a potential standoff brewed over blocked shipments of US humanitarian aid.
Major European countries have followed the lead of the United States in recognizing Guaidó as Venezuela’s leader, but the European Union itself has not. Neither has the United Nations, where Maduro is attempting to rally support.
‘‘We’ve seen what happens when the free world and freedom-loving people unite around a single cause, as so many of the nations represented in this room have stood with us and shoulder-to-shoulder with the Venezuelan people,’’ Pence said at the Munich Security Conference.
‘‘It’s time for the rest of the world to step forward. Once more the Old World can take a strong stand in support of freedom in the New World, Pence said. ‘‘All of us must stand with the Venezuelan people until freedom and democracy are fully restored. Today, we call on the European Union to step forward for freedom.’’
Addressing the largely European audience, Pence got only polite applause for remarks defending the Trump administration’s trade and defense policies and proclaiming Trump as ‘‘the leader of the free world.’’
The vice president said the US delegation to the annual defense-focused session is the largest ever, mostly because of a large bipartisan contingent from Congress, led by Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. Pence’s mention that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, is attending drew louder applause.
Pence used Venezuela as an example of what he called invigorated US leadership. Washington was the first capital to recognize Guaidó and more than 50 other nations have followed, he said.
‘‘The struggle in Venezuela is between dictatorship and democracy. Nicolás Maduro is a dictator with no legitimate claim to power, and Nicolás Maduro must go,’’ Pence said.
The EU has been unable to agree on a unified position on Venezuela, due in part to Italy’s opposition, according to a French diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
In his speech, Pence also took aim at some allies’ growing interactions with Russia. He criticized Germany’s planned purchase of Russian natural gas, which the United States considers a security threat. In an apparent reference to Turkey’s purchase of Russian arms, he said: ‘‘We have also made it clear that we will not stand idly by while NATO allies purchase weapons from our adversaries. We cannot ensure the defense of the West if our allies grow dependent on the East.’’
Turkey, a NATO ally, also skipped a diplomatic meeting last week planned by the United States as a show of force against Iran. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan instead attended a meeting in Russia with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Pence repeated the US expectation that all NATO nations will meet an agreed goal of spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense, which Germany does not do.
He met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel here and told reporters that the session was productive. He also met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.