Wednesday, June 7, 2006

The United States is urging Latin American nations to deny Venezuela a seat on the U.N. Security Council when the region chooses a replacement for the rotating seat held by Argentina, whose term expires at the end of the year.

Reluctant to campaign openly against Venezuela, the Bush administration instead has been boosting the rival candidacy of Guatemala, a U.S. ally.

Even if elected, Venezuela would wield only one vote among 15 on the council and not have veto power. But at some point it would chair the council for a month, setting the agenda and giving President Hugo Chavez an opportunity to use the highest U.N. forum to advance his anti-American agenda. It also could turn close votes against the United States at any time.

Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick made an impassioned pitch in support of Guatemala’s candidacy at a meeting Monday of the Organization of American States (OAS), but failed to convince several of the region’s major players.

Mr. Zoellick cited the United Nations’ “important history” in helping Guatemala move from civil war to democracy, and the country’s participation in U.N. peacekeeping in Africa, where eight of its soldiers have been killed, said a transcript released yesterday by the State Department.

In addition, he noted at the meeting in the Dominican Republic that Guatemala, with a population of less than 13 million, “was one of the founding members of the U.N. but has never served on the U.N. Security Council.”

“I know that the European democracies are supportive of Guatemala. Many of the East Asian countries are supportive of Guatemala, so we hope that it’ll find broad-based support here [in Latin America],” Mr. Zoellick said.

Both Guatemala and Venezuela were among the first U.N. members when they joined in November 1945.

Venezuela, a country of more than 26 million people, has been on the Security Council four times, once during each of the past four decades. It was last elected to a two-year term in 1992, more than six years before Mr. Chavez took power.

The council is made up of five permanent members with vetoes — the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China — and 10 rotating members elected by region for two-year terms. The rotating members have limited power individually, but can tip a vote when the body is split.

In the spring of 2003, the United States and Britain dropped a much-discussed second resolution on Iraq that would have authorized military action because they were not able to secure the nine votes needed.

In the next couple of years, Washington may need all the support it can muster for tough votes on Iran’s nuclear program. But U.S. officials think Venezuela is pursuing cooperation with Tehran on military training, uranium and nuclear technology.

“When you face issues like we’ll be facing, such as Iran, it’s good to have a country that has been at the heart of the U.N. system and who appreciates the role that it can play,” Mr. Zoellick said at the OAS meeting.

Several of Latin America’s most influential countries, led by Brazil and Argentina, said that they will support Venezuela’s candidacy. Uruguay also is seen as backing Caracas, while Chile has not made up its mind.

Peru, Colombia, Nicaragua and perhaps Ecuador are expected to vote for Guatemala.

Critics of Guatemala’s candidacy say that it is not fit to be a Security Council member because it has a border dispute with Belize. But Mr. Zoellick countered that Venezuela has a border dispute with Guyana.

If the countries from the region cannot agree on a candidate, both Venezuela’s and Guatemala’s applications will go to the U.N. General Assembly, where one of them will need a two-thirds majority to be elected.

The term of the second Latin American country on the Security Council, Peru, expires next year, so even if Venezuela loses the battle this time, it is likely to try again, diplomats said.

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