Venezuela and Guatemala withdraw from race for Security Council seat in favor of Panama

Thursday, November 2nd 2006, 3:40 am

By: News On 6

UNITED NATIONS (AP) A diplomatic proxy battle between the Bush administration and Venezuela's anti-U.S. President Hugo Chavez neared an end, with Panama chosen as the consensus candidate for a Latin American seat on the U.N. Security Council.

Venezuela and U.S.-backed Guatemala agreed Wednesday to withdraw from the race and support Panama, a compromise reached after voting in the General Assembly dragged through 47 rounds of balloting.

Ecuador's U.N. Ambassador Diego Cordovez, who hosted two meetings Wednesday between the Guatemalan and Venezuelan foreign ministers, made the announcement at Ecuador's U.N. Mission.

"The two candidates reached an agreement to step down and they came up with Panama as a consensus candidate,'' Cordovez said.

The race for a seat on the U.N.'s most powerful body became highly politicized because the United States supported Guatemala over Venezuela, whose president referred to Bush as "the devil'' in his speech last month to the General Assembly.

Guatemala led Venezuela in all but one ballot, on which they tied, but could not muster the two-thirds majority in the 192-member General Assembly to win the seat designated for a Latin American or Caribbean candidate.

Cordovez said Guatemala and Venezuela will present Panama to the 34 Latin American and Caribbean nations as a consensus candidate at a meeting Thursday, and approval is virtually certain.

With the backing of the two countries and the Latin American group, Panama's election by the General Assembly for a two-year term on the Security Council is also virtually assured.

"We are recognizing today this role of Panama as a political and geographical meeting point and we are very happy to reach this consensus,'' Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said. "Many people will give their opinion about this, but I think what matters today is that a sister nation has obtained our agreement.''

The Dominican Republic had emerged as the leading compromise candidate, so the choice of Panama was a surprise.

Panama's Foreign Ministry expressed its gratitude for being chosen.

"It wasn't in our foreign policy plans to be a part of the Security Council in the near future,'' the Foreign Ministry said, adding that Panama would do its best to support policies on the council that promote "peace and justice in the world.''

The ministry said Panama accepted the offer because the country "is the only candidate that can contribute to the unity of the region and prevent the prolongation of voting in the General Assembly.''

Guatemalan Foreign Minister, Gert Rosenthal, said Guatemala was persuaded to withdraw because it could not find the 15 votes needed to win. He said Guatemala would try again in the future.

"We would've preferred for our competitors to step down, so that we can take the seat,'' Rosenthal said. 'They didn't offer that solution. So instead of dragging this on for another month or two, we felt the time had come to step down and let a sister state take the role of the Latin American group.''

Although Chavez depicted the standoff as a battle between Venezuela and the United States, Rosenthal insisted the U.S. campaign was not pivotal to the outcome.

"We feel that it was not a major element in this campaign; our colleagues from Venezuela do,'' Rosenthal said. "We believe that this was a contest between two Latin American states for one vacancy. We would like it to be perceived as such. This is not about United States.''

State Department spokeswoman Nancy Beck had no immediate comment.

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