The Bush administration fights the nation’s pursuit of a seat on the Security Council, saying that President Hugo Chavez’s influence could disrupt moves against Iran.
By Paul Richter and Maggie Farley
Los Angeles Times
June 19, 2006
WASHINGTON- The Bush administration is lobbying to prevent Venezuela from
securing an open seat on the U.N. Security Council because of concern that its
leading South American rival could confound plans to step up pressure on Iran.
Under United Nations rules, Latin American governments are entitled to pick a
country from the region to fill the rotating seat that comes open next year.
Venezuela has been campaigning for the post.
But the Bush administration is urging Latin American countries to vote for a
U.S. ally, Guatemala, instead, warning that the populist government of
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez cannot be trusted on crucial issues such as
Iran’s nuclear program, given its "disruptive and irresponsible behavior" in
Behind the scenes, U.S. officials have been applying pressure, even to close
allies, Latin American diplomats say. For example, Washington has agreed to
sell F-16 fighter jets to Chile, but are warning that Chilean pilots will not
be trained to fly them if the government supports Venezuela’s Security Council
bid, the diplomats said.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other top State Department
officials have been taking part in lobbying efforts.
Relations between the U.S. and Venezuela have been rocky since Chavez won
election in 1998 and deteriorated further during a failed coup attempt against
him in 2002 that appeared to have the Bush administration’s support. Chavez
frequently refers to President Bush as an idiot, supports fellow leftist
candidates for top offices in Latin America and has sought closer ties with
Cuba and Iran.
As those tensions have increased, Latin American neighbors have worked hard to
avoid taking sides. The Security Council issue, however, is making that
"No one wants to choose between the United States and Venezuela, but that’s what
it’s come down to," said a diplomat from one Western Hemisphere country, who
spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. The
Americans "have made it quite clear this is a top priority."
If Venezuela wins the rotating seat for the designated two-year term, it would
be one of 15 members on the Security Council. Only the five permanent members
have veto power, but each council member’s vote can be important in disputed
issues. If Venezuela takes a stand opposing a U.S.-backed initiative, that
could provide cover for other countries to do the same.
In addition, Venezuela would serve a one-month stretch as president of the
Security Council during its term, a position that would give it a role in
setting the agenda. Such influence could be important if the Security Council
next year debated whether to impose sanctions on Iran in the hope of forcing
Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
Iran is considering an international offer of incentives and talks that would
include U.S. officials, but the Bush administration wants to leave options open
for punitive measures through the U.N.
U.S. officials think the question of whether the Security Council seat will end
up going to Guatemala or Venezuela remains open. But some Latin American
diplomats think Venezuela may have the upper hand.
Caribbean countries, as well as Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina are
expected to side with Venezuela. But Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Central
American countries are leaning toward Guatemala, meaning the issue could wind
If there is no consensus by October, the issue will move to the U.N. General
Assembly. Although the U.S. has been lobbying European and Asian allies, some
Latin American diplomats think developing countries, which hold a General
Assembly majority, are likely to go with Venezuela.
"Everyone who wants to see balance in the Security Council, who wants to see the
United States constrained, will vote for Chavez," said one Latin American
diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the
Diplomats say U.S. officials have put special pressure on Chile, which has one
of South America’s strongest economies and which has been a close U.S. trading
and political partner.
When Rice met with Chilean Foreign Minister Alejandro Foxley in Washington in
April, she devoted most of the closed session to a discussion of the Security
Council issue, Foxley told La Tercera, one of Chile’s largest newspapers.
Rice was quoted as telling Foxley that the issue was "singular because it aims
at the heart of U.S. interests." The U.S. would not understand a vote for
Venezuela, she said, and warned that such a vote would lump Chile with a group
of "losers" separated from the U.S., Mexico, part of Central America and most
of Europe, the newspaper reported.
Chile’s ambassador to the U.N., Heraldo Munoz, said that Chile was a strong but
independent U.S. ally: It opposed Washington on Iraq, was poised to ratify the
U.S.-opposed International Criminal Court and would make up its own mind about
the Security Council seat. But he said he hoped Latin American countries could
agree on a candidate to avoid a divisive vote.
"We have not taken a decision yet," he said. "We will decide based on the merits
of the candidates."
Other U.S. officials also have spoken bluntly. Assistant Secretary of State
Thomas A. Shannon, the top diplomat for Latin America, told reporters this
month that Venezuela’s government did not play a constructive role in
"It has an agenda which is peculiar, which is not necessarily in relation to the
organizations themselves and which always has a confrontational and conflictive
edge," Shannon said.
In contrast, he said, Guatemala has a history of working through the U.N., and
has sent peacekeepers to a number of countries around the world.
State Department spokesman Eric Watnick, asked about U.S. lobbying efforts, said
the choice for the seat was "a crucial one" that would affect how well the
Security Council could deal with such key issues as the Iran nuclear issue and
the Darfur crisis in Sudan.
"It should come as no surprise that we believe Venezuela would not contribute to
the effective operation of the Security Council, as demonstrated by its often
disruptive and irresponsible behavior in multilateral forums," he said.
Francisco Javier Arias Cardenas, Venezuela’s ambassador to the U.N., said
Guatemala’s candidacy "is not really its own. It does not defend or promote its
aspirations and concerns, but it is rather endorsing foreign interests."
In an e-mail response to questions, Arias Cardenas said this "shows a serious
lack of respect from the United States to the other Latin American countries we
are competing against."
Any vote for Guatemala "is really going to the United States," he added.
As some diplomats have begun looking for a compromise candidate, Chavez has
declared he will not pull his country from consideration.
"Venezuela is a candidate and it will not withdraw," Chavez said June 11 on his
weekly television and radio show.
He also announced plans to visit North Korea and Iran, two countries named by
Bush as part of an "axis of evil."
"We will soon be in North Korea, we will soon be in Tehran, deepening our ?
strategic alliances," Chavez said on the broadcast.
Richter reported from Washington and Farley from the United Nations.