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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 October 2006, 21:30 GMT 22:30 UK
Skirmish for UN seat of power
By Laura Trevelyan
BBC News at the UN, New York

Delegates at the UN
Guatemala's US backing has not yet paid off

Never mind the behind-the-scenes lobbying in this election to the UN Security Council - what is happening on the floor of the General Assembly is quite enough.

The Venezuelans handed out chocolates to all 192 countries.

The Guatemalan gift to every delegation was an indigenous cotton bracelet.

On Tuesday the Venezuelans had moved on to brightly coloured bookmarks that called on delegates to support an independent member of the Security Council, standing for social justice, peace and security.

The Guatemalan response was a not-so-well produced pamphlet outlining its platform.

The Venezuelans have the more energetic PR machine.

A photocopy of El Pais newspaper showing a photograph of the US ambassador to the UN whispering into the ear of the Guatemalan ambassador was briskly distributed by what can only have been the Venezuelan delegation early on Tuesday.

Then just as swiftly the article was snatched back - breaking campaigning rules perhaps?

Awkward squad

Venezuela wants a Security Council seat because President Hugo Chavez has rightly identified it would be a good platform from which to oppose Washington and position himself as the leader of a developing world bloc.

Temporary members do not have the veto enjoyed by the five permanent members of the Security Council, but they do get two years in the spotlight and they are able to influence key debates on international peace and security.

George W Bush
Chavez lost some support when calling George W Bush a "devil"

Mr Chavez has been trying for months to drum up support from African, Asian, Middle Eastern and Latin American countries, saying he will give a voice to the voiceless and stand up to what he calls US imperialism.

The US emphatically does not want Venezuela to be on the council, denouncing Washington at every turn and opposing US policies - like trying to rein in Iran's nuclear programme.

Western diplomats fear Venezuela could join with Qatar and South Africa next year to form an awkward squad on the Security Council.

So Washington has backed Guatemala's bid with extensive lobbying of its own.

But Guatemala's platform of being a constructive, positive member of the council, building on the work its UN peacekeepers have done around the world, has been obscured by the US/Venezuela stand-off.

After numerous rounds of balloting, it is clear that Venezuela is trailing Guatemala, a blow to Hugo Chavez's ambitions.

But Guatemala is falling short of the two-thirds majority required for victory.

With no sign of the votes shifting after endless rounds, Latin American diplomats are working on what Chile's ambassador Heraldo Munos called a new scenario. Like finding a third, compromise candidate.

Chile's foreign minister has suggested that could be a Central American country.

Diplomats agree that Mr Chavez's now infamous speech to the UN General Assembly in September, during which he compared President George W Bush to the devil, has lost Venezuela votes.

It was in bad taste, remarked a leading African diplomat.

But there is no consensus in favour of Guatemala either.

So for now, diplomats will pace up and down the increasingly frayed green carpet of the General Assembly, haggling and debating, trying to find a way through this impasse.

In 1979, Cuba v Colombia went to 154 rounds of voting before Mexico emerged as the compromise candidate for the temporary Security Council seat.

UN vote on Latin America resumes
17 Oct 06 |  Americas
UN steps into US-Venezuela spat
25 Sep 06 |  Americas
Profile: The UN Security Council
03 Jan 06 |  Country profiles
Chavez tells UN Bush is 'devil'
20 Sep 06 |  Americas

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