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US Backs Guatemala For UN Security Council Seat

The United States said Tuesday it favors Guatemala over Venezuela in a contest to fill a rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council opening next year. U.S. officials say the choice could be critical because of possible Security Council action on the Iran nuclear issue and the Darfur crisis in Sudan.

The Bush administration is making clear its preference for Guatemala in the politically sensitive contest for the Security Council seat, but it is also denying using pressure tactics with Latin American states to try to prevent a win by Venezuela.

Under U.N. rules, Latin American countries are to pick a country from the region to fill a rotating council seat that opens next year.

The Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chavez, which has had an antagonistic relationship with the Bush administration, has been campaigning for the seat.

But The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday the United States is urging countries in the region to support Central American ally Guatemala and has been applying behind the scenes pressure to steer votes away from Venezuela.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli flatly denied an assertion by the newspaper that the United States had threatened to deny flight training to Chilean pilots for F-16 fighter planes the country is buying, if Chile supported Venezuela.

However, Ereli said it has been no secret since the Organization of American States meeting in the Dominican Republic earlier this month that the United States wants to see Guatemala win the seat:

"We think that the election of a non-permanent member to the Security Council is crucial, and it affects how well the council will be able to address threats to international peace and security," said Adam Ereli. "We've got our views on who are good candidates, and obviously we think Guatemala would be an excellent one, given its participation in peacekeeping operations. You know, Guatemalans have shed blood for the U.N., and they are, we believe, a strong candidate, and deserving of support."

The Los Angeles Times said that while Venezuela would not have a Security Council veto, it could disrupt efforts in the council to take action against Iran, if Tehran turns down the international offer of incentives to halt sensitive nuclear activities.

The Latin American member would serve a one-month term as president of the Security Council and as such have a role in setting its agenda.

The Bush administration has had a tense relationship with President Chavez, accusing him of undermining democracy in Venezuela and meddling in the affairs of neighboring countries.

Mr. Chavez in turn alleges the United States backed a military revolt that briefly unseated him in 2002 and may be planning to invade the country, charges which U.S. officials deny.

Another spokesman here said that during Mr. Chavez' tenure, Venezuela has often displayed disruptive and irresponsible behavior in international forums.

Latin American countries are reported to be nearly evenly split on the choice between Venezuela and Guatemala for the two year council term. If there is no consensus by October, the issue would be decided by the U.N. General Assembly.