- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 15, 2006

Venezuela or Guatemala?

NEW YORK — The General Assembly will hold its annual vote this morning to elect five member nations to the Security Council.

Belgium, Italy and South Africa have the support of their regional groups, meaning that they are uncontested. They will succeed Denmark, Greece and Tanzania, respectively.

Indonesia is expected to trounce Nepal, which is having governance problems, to replace Japan.

The Latin American-Caribbean seat is the only contest, and it has been a brutal one: Venezuela has long been favored to win the seat now held by Argentina, even before Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s bombastic performance during the General Assembly debate last month.

Guatemala has been campaigning hard and is expected to get enough support to prevent Venezuela from winning the necessary two-thirds majority — 128 votes — in the world body.

“Venezuela has far more support,” said one Latin diplomat, whose government supports Guatemala. “But the question is whether Guatemala can hold on to enough votes to force a standoff.” If that happens, observers expect a third nation to put itself forward after many rounds of voting.

The balloting is anonymous, which means Guatemala and Venezuela probably aren’t exaggerating when both claim to have the necessary two-thirds support for the Latin American-Caribbean seat.

The five countries chosen will begin their two-year terms on Jan. 1.

The United States will find a much more complex group sitting around the horseshoe table next year.

In one of the biggest shifts, Indonesia will replace Japan, a consistent ally of U.S. positions on international peace and security. The largest Muslim country in the world, Indonesia is likely to be more concerned with Asia’s western edge than the Far East. This likely means that Qatar will have company in pressing the Middle East agenda, while Washington will lose a valuable voice on North Korea.

“It will be a very different Security Council in that sense,” said Colin Keating, executive director of the Security Council Report, a think tank that monitors the council’s work. With a deep diplomatic bench and moderate world views, he said, Indonesia is likely to be a responsible voice on the council but one that will not be mistaken for Japan’s.

And South Africa, the outspoken leader of the Group of 77 — a coalition of 132 developing countries — likely will take many of its cues from powerful G-77 member China.

Additionally, diplomats note, there seems to be some bad blood between South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo and U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton, who squared off this spring during fractious U.N. reform debates with a zeal rarely seen in the world body.

Some say long hours around the cramped working tables in the council’s back rooms will mellow the relationship. Of course, if Mr. Bolton does not return to the United Nations after his recess appointment ends in December, the friction may be avoided.

The European swap is not likely to be seismic, because all nations of the European Union are largely bound by a consensus. But the history, and personality of the ambassadors and strategic interests of their capitals could affect nuances in council deliberations.

Newcomer Italy has expanded its role and voice in the United Nations in the past decade and is taking the lead on the expanded U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon. And Belgium, with its colonial history in Africa, maintains significant interest in the continent. The five elected members staying on for another year are Congo, Ghana, Peru, Qatar and the Slovak Republic. The five permanent members are the United States, Britain, China, Russia and France.

• Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]


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