- Associated Press - Thursday, September 21, 2006

NEW YORK — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez yesterday used his annual address to the United Nations to call President Bush “the devil himself” and “world dictator,” topping the rhetorical blast of his Iranian counterpart the previous day.

Echoing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s criticism of the current U.N. structure, Mr. Chavez said American dominance and a Security Council with veto-holding permanent members had made the world organization “worthless.”

“The hegemonic pretensions of the American empire are placing at risk the very existence of the human species,” Mr. Chavez said.

“The devil himself is right in the house. The devil came here yesterday, … talking as if he owned the world,” Mr. Chavez said. Then he crossed himself and added: “It still smells of sulfur today.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declined “to dignify” the Venezuelan leader’s comment, saying only, “I think it’s not becoming for a head of state.”

John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called the remarks a “comic-strip approach to international affairs.”

In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the Venezuelan people should “determine whether President Chavez represented them in a way they would have liked to have seen.”

The “devil” comment elicited some giggles among the audience of presidents, prime ministers and diplomats from around the world, and Mr. Chavez’s speech won light applause, although no one publicly sided with him. Still, it was not clear how much support his argument gathered among delegates.

Several diplomats said they were not surprised by Mr. Chavez’s style and did not take him seriously. Others noted that the issue of U.N. reform deserved attention, but there are more appropriate ways to express one’s opinion about Security Council members.

“I don’t think anybody in this room could defend the system,” Mr. Chavez said. “Let’s be honest. The U.N. system born after the Second World War collapsed. It’s worthless.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad said in his speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday that some of the governments objecting to his country’s nuclear program, which he insisted was for peaceful purposes, “have abused nuclear technology for nonpeaceful ends including the production of nuclear bombs.”

“The question needs to be asked: If the governments of the United States or the United Kingdom, who are permanent members of the Security Council, commit aggression, occupation and violation of international law, which of the organs of the U.N. can take them to account?” the Iranian president said Tuesday night.

“As long as the council is unable to act on behalf of the entire international community in a transparent, just and democratic manner, it will neither be legitimate nor effective,” he added.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett yesterday rejected the notion that the United States and Britain “are causing problems for the rest of the international community.”

Also yesterday, the five veto-wielding Security Council members gave Iran a new deadline of early October to suspend uranium enrichment and begin negotiations on a package of incentives in order to avoid a nuclear showdown, European diplomats said.

Meanwhile, the Iranian president told Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi he is ready for nuclear talks with major powers but flexibility is needed on all sides.

“Ahmadinejad indicated that Iran is willing to negotiate but there needs to be flexibility on both sides,” Mr. Prodi said in a written statement issued after his meeting with the Iranian leader during the U.N. general debate.

Mr. Chavez and Mr. Ahmadinejad have become good friends in the past year, and the Iranian leader made a much-publicized visit to Venezuela before flying to New York.

U.S. officials said that Mr. Chavez’s speech yesterday had given the United Nations a glimpse of what it might expect if Venezuela succeeded in its bid for one of Latin America’s two rotating seats on the Security Council, which is currently held by Argentina and will become available in January.

The Bush administration supports Guatemala’s candidacy, and officials said their efforts to keep Mr. Chavez away from another U.N. forum would increase in the coming weeks and months.

The Security Council consists of 15 members. Ten are elected for two-year terms and do not have the veto power, which is reserved for each of the five permanent members — the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia.

The Washington Times’ U.N. correspondent Betsy Pisik contributed to this report.

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