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Venezuela, Guatemala Give Up Battle for Security Council Seat, Choose Panama

02 November 2006

Venezuela and Guatemala have ended their battle for an open U.N. Security Council seat from Latin America. Both countries agreed to withdraw in favor of Panama.

The breakthrough came late Wednesday, after talks between the Venezuelan and Guatemalan foreign ministers.

The struggle for the two-year Security Council seat had dragged on in the U.N. General Assembly for more than two weeks and 47 ballots. Guatemala held a substantial lead over Venezuela, but not enough to secure the necessary two-thirds majority.

Venezuela, however, refused to concede defeat. Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez had portrayed the race as a struggle against U.S. dominance in the region. Venezuelan diplomats described Guatemala as a U.S. stooge.

Washington had openly backed Guatemala, arguing that a Chavez-led Venezuela would be a disruptive influence on the Security Council.

After agreeing to withdraw his country's candidacy, Guatemala's Foreign Minister Gert Rosenthal said American backing had been a mixed blessing.

"Their support was a double-edged sword, in some areas it probably damaged our champaign, in other areas it helped, but it really was not the main theme. We believe 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 the United States, it's about Latin America's seat in the Security Council," he said.

Rosenthal said Guatemala had withdrawn despite its clear lead in the balloting because Venezuela clearly had enough committed support to prevent a Guatemalan victory. He vowed to try again.

"We would have preferred for our competitors to step down so that we could take the seat. They didn't opt for 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," he said.

The choice of Panama must still be endorsed by the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries, and then approved by the General Assembly. But both are considered a formality.

When elected, Panama will replace Argentina on the Council for a two-year term beginning January 1. Peru holds the other elected Latin American seat on the 15-member Council.

In other regional elections last month, Italy and Belgium were elected without opposition to the European seats on the Council, replacing Denmark and Greece. Indonesia easily beat back a challenge by Nepal for an Asian seat now held by Japan. And South Africa was unopposed for a seat being vacated by Tanzania.

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