Chavez Plans to Meet With North Korea's Kim Jong-il

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

( - Hugo Chavez, the virulently anti-U.S. president of Venezuela who is seeking a seat on the U.N. Security Council while establishing close ties with such rogue states as Cuba and Iran, is now planning a meeting with reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Chavez said at the weekend a visit to North Korea -- no date was specified -- would involve the signing of bilateral technology and science agreements, but one South Korean newspaper said Monday an "oil-for-missiles deal" may be on the agenda.

Venezuela is the world's fifth largest petroleum exporter, and Chavez has declared himself willing to use its ample oil revenues to fund efforts to spread his socialist "Bolivarian revolution" to other countries in Latin America.

North Korea claims to possess nuclear weapons and also has an advanced missile program. The isolated Stalinist regime is currently believed to be planning a long-range missile test, to the dismay of its neighbors.

Despite Washington's denials, both North Korea and Venezuela have frequently accused the U.S. of seeking to invade or attack.

Pyongyang's official media mouthpieces say the country needs nuclear weapons because of the military threat posed by the U.S.

Chavez speaks increasingly about the need to prepare for an "asymmetrical war," a reference to an alleged plot by the U.S. "empire" to overthrow his government.

Since Chavez took office in 1998 relations between Caracas and Pyongyang have improved considerably, and North Korean political and economic delegations have visited Venezuela.

According to Seoul's conservative Chosun Ilbo newspaper, a top North Korean lawmaker, Yang Hyong-sop, visited Venezuela last September and said the two countries needed to respond jointly to "American pressure and threats."

Meanwhile, Venezuela is pushing ahead with a campaign to win a rotating seat on the Security Council, a position that would provide it with additional clout at a time the U.N.'s top body grapples with issues like the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs.

At the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last September, Venezuela was the only country to vote against a resolution critical of Iran's nuclear activities. Last February, Venezuela again voted at the IAEA in favor of Iran, joined on that occasion by Cuba and Syria.

The Security Council comprises five permanent, veto-wielding nations -- the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China -- and 10 others who serve for two-year terms, with half that number replaced each year.

One of two seats earmarked for Latin America is up for renewal from January 1. The regional group puts forward a candidate for approval by the General Assembly.

Venezuela is hoping to fill the seat, although Guatemala is also in the running, and the U.S. has made its preference clear.

In the Dominican Republic earlier this month, outgoing Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick called Guatemala "a particularly interesting candidate," noting that although the small Central American nation was a founding member of the U.N. and had contributed peacekeepers to missions in Africa, it had never served on the Security Council.

"So not surprisingly when you face issues like we'll be facing such as Iran its good to have a country that has been at the heart of the U.N. system and who appreciates the role that it can play," Zoellick told reporters in Santo Domingo, where he was attending an Organization of American States (OAS) meeting.

Zoellick acknowledged that Guatemala had a troubled past, a reference to discrimination and violence against indigenous peoples, but said the country had "made great strides in trying to overcome" the problem.

"I know that the European democracies are supportive of Guatemala [acquiring a council seat]; many of the East Asian countries are supportive of Guatemala so we hope that it'll find broad-based support here [in Latin America]."

Money, influence

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez said in a television interview late last week that his government was confident it would be successful in its bid for a seat.

Chavez has won friends and influence in parts of Latin America with his populism and anti-U.S. rhetoric, and is closely aligned with fellow leftists Fidel Castro in Cuba and Evo Morales in Bolivia. He may also have the support of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who also is left-leaning although considered more pragmatic.

Elsewhere, however, Venezuela's Security Council bid may face opposition.

Peru's newly-elected president, Alan Garcia, has publicly fallen out with Chavez over the leftist leader's open support for a rival in the recent Peruvian election campaign.

Garcia in a victory speech criticized Chavez for trying to extend his influence through the region, and in return was dubbed an American "lapdog."

During his Dominican Republic visit, Zoellick said that although Chavez "still has a lot of oil money and a lot of influence," democracies of Latin America were starting to speak up about Venezuela "infringing on their own democratic process," and cited both Peru and Nicaragua.

The Chilean government is reportedly divided over whether to back Venezuela's candidacy, while Colombia's recently re-elected President Alvaro Uribe has good relations with Washington despite launching a gas pipeline project with Venezuela.

Mexico's stance will likely depend on the outcome of this Sunday's presidential election, a close-fought race between pro-Chavez leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and conservative Filipe Calderon.

The seat Venezuela hopes to occupy will be decided upon in October. In ant absence of a consensus candidate for Latin America, the General Assembly will choose between rival nominees.

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