U.S. and Venezuela Battle at the U.N.
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
Besides North Korea, the U.N. General Assembly has been the scene of another clash, this one between the United States and Venezuela.
Venezuela is vying for an open seat on the U.N. Security Council to counter U.S. dominance. The Bush administration has lobbied hard to block that. And throughout this battle there's been plenty of talk of pressure tactics and bribes on both sides.
NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN: For the past two days, the president of the General Assembly sounded like a broken record.
(Soundbite of gavel)
Sheikha HAYA RASHED AL KHALIFA (President, United Nations General Assembly): Ballot papers marked (unintelligible) will now be distributed.
KELEMEN: Bahrain's Haya Rashed Al Khalifa oversaw vote after vote to decide which Latin American country gets a temporary seat on the Security Council -Venezuela or Washington's pick, Guatemala.
Guatemala consistently came out on top, but it hasn't won the two-thirds majority needed. So the talk turned to a consensus candidate. Venezuela's ambassador Francisco Javier Arias Cardenas said his country would agree only if the U.S. stops its pressure tactics.
Ambassador FRANCISCO JAVIER ARIAS CARDENAS (Venezuelan Ambassador to the United Nations): (Through translator) For there to be a consensus, we will agree, so long as Mr. Bolton or Mr. Bush stand here in front of the international community and accept to withdraw their pressures against all countries that they have been pressuring with money and extortions of all kinds.
KELEMEN: U.S. Ambassador John Bolton didn't seem ready to do that.
Ambassador JOHN BOLTON (United States Ambassador to the United Nations): I've been in politics, international politics and American domestic politics, for a long time and I know arm-twisting when I see it, and it is not happening here by the United States.
KELEMEN: While the accusations of strong-arm tactics remain murky, the politics behind the U.N. vote are clear. Diplomats say the U.S. didn't help Guatemala much by publicly backing its candidacy. And Hugo Chavez didn't help himself by standing at the podium at the U.N. in September and calling his nemesis, President Bush, the devil.
President HUGO CHAVEZ (President, Venezuela): (Through translator) Yesterday, the devil came here, right here, and it smells of sulfur still today.
KELEMEN: Though the audience chuckled at the time, Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations says Chavez overplayed his hand.
Ms. JULIA SWEIG (Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations): The Latin Americans, although they have significant grievances with the United States, don't see him as their spokesperson.
KELEMEN: She says there are other signs Chavez's popularity has been fading. The candidate he backed in Ecuador didn't do as well as expected, for instance. And Sweig says so far the U.S. is playing this well.
Ms. SWEIG: They've given Chavez a long noose with which to hang himself. And he can blame strong-arm tactics of the United States on this vote, but I really think that they are being very careful to make it seem that he has done himself in.
KELEMEN: Another longtime Latin American watcher, Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, says Chavez isn't doing himself any favors by befriending Iran and North Korea.
Senator CHRISTOPHER DODD (Democrat, Connecticut): This also is an indication of the kind of trouble Chavez is in. He's not making trips around Latin America. I don't think he gets many invitations. He's now seeking out places around the world that are willing to have him, but places that are kind of in the darker corners of the world, politically speaking. So that's an indication that his cache in the region isn't quite as strong as it has been.
KELEMEN: Dodd says that the Bush administration should do more to take advantage of this and reach out to Latin American leaders and pay attention to their grievances. He doesn't give the Bush administration high marks. But Washington does seem to be winning in its short-term goal of keeping Venezuela off the Security Council.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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