Friday, August 25, 2006

During his visit this week to Beijing, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez inked several oil agreements, which he hopes will increase Venezuela’s oil exports to China to the point of rivaling exports to the United States in the next 15 years. The oil deal is the latest in China’s single-minded drive to shore up the supply of natural resources that it will need to continue its rapid growth. It is also the latest attempt from Mr. Chavez to build up diplomatic support for Venezuela — and against the United States — assisted, as usual, by Venezuela’s oil reserves.

Despite its interest in energy resources from Venezuela and nickel from Cuba, China has been diplomatically circumspect, avoiding conflict with the United States even as its economic ties in the Western Hemisphere increase. For Mr. Chavez, however, nothing is more appealing than entangling a superpower in a conflict with the United States.

During Mr. Chavez’s world tour in July — which took him through any country in which he expected to find support for his anti-U.S. network — he tried to portray Russia’s weapons deal with Venezuela an affront to the United States. Russian President Vladimir Putin demurred, but Russia did proceed with the arms sale. Mr. Chavez’s goal was much the same in Beijing.

That Mr. Chavez plays gadfly to isolated regimes merits much less concern than his multibillion dollar arms deal with Russia. But in addition to signing deals for weapons and oil resources, Mr. Chavez has used his frequent traveling to build support for a nonpermanent seat on the U.N. Security Council for Venezuela — an ambition the Bush administration is well justified in trying to thwart. Mr. Chavez’s support so far for this endeavor includes Russia and China along with several Latin American countries.

Mr. Chavez’s attempts to turn his rabid anti-American sentiment into a network of the world’s rogue regimes — from Alexsander Lukashenko’s Belarus to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iran to Kim Jong-Il’s North Korea — is one reason for the United States to oppose a place on the Security Council for the Venezuelan rabble rouser. His take on the recent war in the Middle East is another: Israel has “done something similar or, perhaps worse… than what the Nazis did,” Mr. Chavez said. “I believe that a genocide has occurred [in Lebanon] and that those in Israel who are responsible should be taken to international tribunals for this genocide,” he said.

Washington, which rightly overlooks Mr. Chavez’s grandstanding and overblown rhetoric, has not let Mr. Chavez become the focus of U.S. diplomacy in South America. But keeping Venezuela off of the Security Council needs to be a high U.S. priority.

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