Obama Administration Stands By As Anti-U.S. Venezuela Poised to Join U.N. Security Council

By Patrick Goodenough | October 16, 2014 | 4:15am EDT

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. (Photo: Venezuelan Presidency)

(Update: Venezuela on Wednesday easily secured a seat on the U.N. Security Council for 2015-16,  receiving 181 votes from the 193-member General Assembly, Other seats went to Spain, New Zealand, Malaysia and Angola, with Turkey falling short – in a three-way race for two seats – to New Zealand and Spain.)

(CNSNews.com) – Venezuela’s socialist government is on the verge of being elected to the U.N. Security Council, and the Obama administration appears resigned to the prospect of sharing the horseshoe-shaped table in New York for two years with one of America’s harshest critics.

The 193-nation General Assembly (UNGA) will vote Wednesday to fill five of the 10 non-permanent seats on the 15-member Security Council. Venezuela is the unopposed candidate for a seat earmarked for Latin America and the Caribbean, having been endorsed by all 33 nations in the regional group.

The only way its ambition can be denied is if it fails to win the support of two-thirds of the UNGA (129 votes), paving the way for another country in the region to announce its candidacy.

Reaching the 129 votes should not be difficult: The bloc of developing nations known as the Non-Aligned Movement alone accounts for almost two-thirds of the General Assembly’s membership and the vast majority will back Venezuela.

(When Venezuela stood for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2012, UNGA member-states gave it strong support despite appeals from human rights groups. In a secret ballot vote Venezuela received more votes than did the United States.)

The Security Council is a far more powerful body than the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, and in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry last week, a small bipartisan group of senators urged him “to lead a diplomatic effort” to deny Venezuela the seat.

“Venezuela’s membership on the U.N. Security Council would constitute a serious blow for the United States and United Nations at a time when we must collaborate to address the world’s most pressing challenges,” said Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).

If the U.S. has conducted any lobbying against Venezuela’s bid, it has been very discreet; administration officials have said little about the issue.

During a press briefing ahead of the UNGA session opening last month, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said that although the U.S. was not a member of the Latin American group, “we’ve made clear that regional groups have a responsibility to put forward candidate countries that support the principles of the U.N. Charter, contribute to the Security Council’s role in maintaining international peace and security, and uphold and advance human rights.”

“We obviously don’t publicly discuss our private diplomatic conversations or our voting intentions,” Harf added. “But our concerns with regard to Venezuela’s human rights record, certainly, and democratic governance are well known. But again, we are not a member of this group and we will wait and see what happens.”

In contrast to that “wait and see” approach, the Bush administration in 2006 rallied support to defeat a previous attempt by Venezuela – then under the late President Hugo Chavez – to win a council seat.

The U.S. threw its weight behind Guatemala, and a marathon political battle ensued. After 47 rounds of voting over a three-week period gave neither Venezuela nor Guatemala the required majority, the regional group offered Panama as a compromise and it duly won the seat.

Standing against U.S. interests at the U.N.

Venezuela, both under Chavez and his hand-picked successor Nicolas Maduro, has consistently taken foreign policy positions at odds to those of the U.S. and many of its Western allies.

It is closely aligned to Cuba and Iran, supports Syrian President Bashar Assad – as it did the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi – and was one of a very few countries to support Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region last March.

When HRC voted last year to extend an investigation into abuses committed during the Syrian civil war, Venezuela was the only member to oppose the move.  In a 2013 UNGA vote condemning the Assad regime, Venezuela joined Belarus, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Zimbabwe in voting “no.”

In a provocative address at the UNGA last month, Maduro railed against the American “empire,” accused it of plotting to undermine Venezuela’s “democracy” and suggested that a “more human” international system would have put more effort into combating the Ebola outbreak in Africa than into “bombing the people of Iraq and Syria.”

In recent days, Venezuela has clashed with U.N. rights experts over the fate of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who has been in a military prison since last February, accused of inciting violence during street protests which Maduro characterized as a coup attempt. If convicted he could face 10 years’ imprisonment.

After the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions questioned the legality of Lopez’ incarceration and called for his release, Venezuela’s foreign minister and attorney-general told it to stop “meddling” in its affairs.

Heritage Foundation scholars Ana Quintana and Brett Schaefer argued Wednesday that the geopolitical situation today was “far worse” than it was the last time the Bush administration succeeded in foiling Venezuela’s Security Council ambitions, as “the U.S. does not have the diplomatic clout it once had.”

“If anything, the U.S. faces more threats in a more chaotic world than was the case under the Bush administration,” they wrote in a commentary.

“President Obama repeatedly has expressed his commitment to working through the UNSC when possible. If so, President Obama and his administration should be pulling out all the stops to block Venezuela’s UNSC bid.”

In Wednesday’s other contests for Security Council seats for 2015-2016:

--Spain, Turkey and New Zealand are vying for two seats earmarked for the Western group, to succeed Australia and Luxembourg;

--Malaysia is the unopposed candidate for a seat for Asia, replacing South Korea;

--Angola is unchallenged for a seat for Africa, replacing Rwanda.

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