Chavez Lobbying Hard for Security Council Seat

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

( - Bolstered by the support of a second permanent U.N. Security Council member, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Monday took his campaign to win a seat on the council to Malaysia. He faces strong opposition from the United States.

During a six-day visit to China, the populist leftist won Beijing's backing for Venezuela's bid to be elected onto the 15-member council in October. Russia earlier agreed to support Venezuela.

Washington is adamantly opposed to the seat going to a country sympathetic to some of America's biggest foes, including Iran, North Korea and Cuba.

The nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea in particular are expected to remain high on the council's agenda for the foreseeable future, and Caracas earlier refused to support an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolution to send the Iranian nuclear issue to the top U.N. body.

Traditionally, U.N. regional groups put forward consensus candidates to hold the 10 non-permanent seats on the Security Council for two-year periods.

In this case, however, two candidates -- Venezuela and Guatemala -- are vying for the seat. Because the region has not submitted a single candidate, the General Assembly will decide in a secret ballot vote, with the winner requiring a two-thirds majority.

A fierce lobbying campaign is underway, and the contest has shaped up into one between the U.S. -- which backs Guatemala and is urging its allies to do the same -- and countries critical of the Bush administration.

Latin American and Caribbean nations have been lining up behind one of the two contenders, with several yet to make their positions known.

Chilean lawmakers last Tuesday voted for a measure urging their government not to support Venezuela for the seat. A sponsor of the successful bill was quoted as saying Venezuela had become "a source of division and conflict in the region."

It remains unclear what decision President Michelle Bachelet will make. She said it would be made "at the right time," and be based on the interests of Chile.

Outside the region, Chavez has been traveling widely, making new allies and shoring up existing relationships with offers of oil deals, focusing largely on countries that share some of his criticisms of U.S. foreign policy.

Malaysia, his latest stop, is expected to throw its support behind Venezuela's bid.

Malaysia wields considerable influence in the developing world, and currently chairs the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Non-Aligned Movement, whose members account for almost two-thirds of U.N. membership.

Chavez was due to meet with Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi on Monday evening.

While wooing developing nations, Venezuela also is seeking the support of the Arab world.

Chavez says he plans to visit Syria shortly, and the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry reported that an envoy had submitted a presentation of its bid to the 22-member Arab League.

"We will go to the Security Council as an independent-minded country, able to make our own decisions," it quoted envoy a presentation of its bid Venezuelan Roy Chaderton Matos as telling the Arab governments.

"We are certain that based on our beliefs, [we] will support our Arab fellows against war and incursion of foreign countries, against poverty and religious or state terrorism, and in favor of freedom, social justice and peace."

Chavez has been burnishing his credentials in the Arab world, and his recent decision to withdraw Venezuela's ambassador from Israel to protest the conflict in Lebanon won praise in the region. He has also long voiced support for anti-coalition elements in Iraq.

In China, he again likened Israel's war against Hizballah to the actions of the Nazis, and said Israeli leaders should be prosecuted for genocide.

He also slammed the U.S. for opposing the U.N. effort.

"The U.S. government has employed every means to block my country from joining the Security Council," he told reporters. "The American imperialists are trying to stop us."

Venezuela is the world's fifth largest petroleum exporter, and during his visit to China, Chavez pledged to boost significantly oil supplies to the energy-hungry communist giant.

The two governments also agreed to cooperate in joint projects to develop Venezuelan oil fields.

Wu Bangguo, China's top legislator, said after meeting with Chavez that Beijing appreciated Venezuela's support for China on issues including human rights, Taiwan and Tibet.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow