Venezuela Says Guatemala Bowed to U.S.

The Associated Press
Friday, October 27, 2006; 9:44 PM

UNITED NATIONS -- Venezuela accused Guatemala on Friday of bowing to U.S. pressure and backing out of talks on a compromise candidate to break a deadlock in their battle for a seat on the U.N. Security Council.

"We are starting from scratch now," said Venezuela's Foreign Minister Maduro during a break from meetings with Arab, Africa, Latin American and Asian groups to lobby for support for Venezuela during the next round of balloting on Tuesday.

If talks resume, he said, his government will again propose Bolivia as a compromise nation "because it is an emerging country with a new leadership representing very well South America."

Latin American diplomats had hoped that high-level talks on Thursday between Maduro and Guatemalan Foreign Minister Gert Rosenthal could break the impasse after 41 ballots failed to produce a winner, but both countries refused to withdraw.

Guatemala has led Venezuela in all but one of the votes, where they tied, but it has been clear since the early ballots that neither can muster the needed two-thirds support in the 192-nation U.N. General Assembly.

The United States backs Guatemala, and leftist Venezuela is led by the fiercely anti-American President Hugo Chavez.

Maduro said that between Monday and Tuesday several countries were contacted as possible alternatives as agreed by the two countries. Some said no and some agreed to be considered as a possible compromise, he said.

But at Thursday's meeting "they said they were canceling all the talks and they did not recognize the agreements made on Monday and Tuesday," he told two reporters after meeting Arab nations to campaign for additional votes.

"The Foreign Ministry of Guatemala is changing its mind because they are following the signal sent by the U.S. administration," Maduro said.

Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, rejected Maduro's claim.

"Venezuela's strategy has always been to make this about the United States. This issue is about who would serve best on the Security Council. Clearly, it is our opinion that Guatemala is the best candidate," he said.

At the end of Thursday's meeting, Guatemala's Rosenthal said Guatemala was not willing to step down.

"We still believe we have the possibility of getting enough votes to prevail," he said. "Our position is different from theirs _ they don't have any chances."

Ecuador's U.N. Ambassador Diego Cordovez, who chairs the 34-nation Latin American and Caribbean group, said a a solution would be difficult if Venezuela and Guatemala refuse to give up their ambition to serve a two-year term on the U.N.'s most powerful body.

He said Guatemala's foreign minister refused to pull out "because the Congress in his country is telling him not to withdraw."

Guyana's Foreign Minister Rudy Insanally said Guatemala argues that it needs just six or seven more votes to get a two-thirds majority "but if that fails, we have to start looking at other candidates."

Insanally said diplomats were looking at countries that are bidding to win the region's second seat on the 15-member Security Council, which Peru will vacate at the end of 2007, including the Dominican Republic, Paraguay and Uruguay.

A number of countries had been mentioned as possible compromise candidates including Bolivia, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Chile and most recently the Dominican Republic.

Venezuela initially proposed Bolivia as an alternative in hopes of breaking the deadlock, but it was unclear whether Bolivia, whose leftist president Evo Morales is among Chavez's closest allies, would be an acceptable compromise.

© 2006 The Associated Press