Stalemate continues over U.N. seat

The Baltimore Sun

UNITED NATIONS -- Guatemala and U.S. foe Venezuela failed to break an impasse over their competition for a U.N. Security Council seat yesterday, with each side blaming the other for the stalemate.

After a closed-door meeting, the two nations' foreign ministers said neither country had agreed to withdraw in favor of a consensus candidate, despite indications earlier in the week that they might do so.

"We are not prepared to step down," Guatemalan Ambassador Gert Rosenthal said after the talks. Instead, he said, Guatemala would court more votes and called on Venezuela to withdraw its candidacy for the rotating seat, one of two for Latin America on the 15-seat Security Council.

Venezuela said it would withdraw only if Guatemala does. Since Oct. 16, Venezuela has trailed Guatemala in 41 rounds of secret General Assembly voting for the seat.

But Guatemala has failed to gain the required two-thirds majority.

"Guatemala ended the discussions," Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said. "We believe it is doing so on the orders of the United States ... which has a fatal obsession with denying Venezuela the Security Council seat."

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, who in September called President Bush "the devil" in a speech at the U.N. General Assembly, accuses the White House of trying to derail his candidacy because he wants to use the seat to counter what he calls U.S. hegemony.

Asked about the latest accusation yesterday, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations said only that the United States supports Guatemala, which is a strong ally.

A number of countries - including Bolivia, Costa Rica, Uruguay and Chile - had been mentioned as compromise candidates.

Venezuela initially proposed its close ally Bolivia as an alternative in hopes of breaking the deadlock, and Bolivia said it would agree to be a candidate if it helped reach a consensus. But it was not clear whether Bolivia, whose leftist president Evo Morales is among Chavez's closest allies, would be an acceptable compromise.

The Dominican Republic's president, Leonel Fernandez, who was in Washington for talks with President Bush, said yesterday that Maduro called him to discuss the possibility of the Dominican Republic being a consensus candidate.

"Our answer was that we are going to consider that as a possibility," he said.

The Dominican Republic, which has good relations with the United States and Venezuela, has been campaigning for the Latin American region's other rotating seat, which Peru will vacate at the end of 2007.

Costa Rica's Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno said yesterday that his country never considered being an alternative candidate.

The Guatemala-Venezuela voting is already the third-longest in the U.N.'s 61-year history. Voting resumes Tuesday.

The second-highest number of ballots for a council seat was 52, in 1960.

After that, the General Assembly agreed to allow Poland and Turkey to serve on the council for one year each.

The record number is 155 rounds of voting, set in 1980. The General Assembly gave up on Cuba and Colombia after 154 rounds, and chose Mexico on the 155th, in early January of that year.

Letta Tayler writes for Newsday. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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