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Venezuela, Guatemala Deadlocked in Race for UN Security Council Seat

Venezuela and Guatemala are locked in a fierce battle at the United Nations to win an open seat on the Security Council. Ten rounds of voting have proven inconclusive.

Venezuela's bid for a Latin American seat in the Security Council suffered a setback Monday, as it finished behind rival Guatemala in nine of 10 rounds of voting in the General Assembly. One round ended in a tie. But in the 10th and final ballot of the day, Guatemala had 110 votes, 15 short of the necessary two-thirds majority. Venezuela had 77.

Voting continues Tuesday. Diplomats say the contest appears deadlocked. Each side seems to have enough support to block the other from getting the needed votes, but not enough to win.

Denmark's U.N. ambassador, Ellen-Margrethe Loj, says she expects a long, drawn out struggle.

"I think it will take a while," said Ellen-Margrethe Loj. "I don't think we'll have a solution tomorrow."

The campaign for the Latin seat has been bitter.

Venezuela and its president, Hugo Chavez, have characterized the race not as a contest with Guatemala, but as a fight against the United States.

As his country's support faded late in the day, Venezuela's U.N. ambassador, Francisco Javier Arias Cardenas, lashed out, calling Washington's backing of Guatemala "obscene" and vowing not to withdraw from the race.

"Venezuela will not quit for anything," he said. He accused the United States of acting like the "owner of the universe," and thanked those who he said "oppose the gross and obscene campaign the United States is waging against Venezuela."

He accused Guatemala of being Washington's puppet.

Guatemala's foreign minister, Gert Rosenthal, immediately responded to that charge. He pointed out that his country's foreign policy differs from the United States on many points.

"We were not member of the coalition of the willing in Iraq," said Gert Rosenthal. "We have diplomatic relations with Cuba. We are an independent country and frankly we resent it a bit being told that we are going to toe the line [follow the lead] of the U.S. or any other power. We make our own decisions."

The apparent stalemate has given rise to diplomatic speculation that a compromise candidate might eventually spring up. Mexico, Chile and Uruguay have been prominently mentioned as possible compromises. Rosenthal told reporters "this is not the time to give up" but acknowledged compromise might be the only way to break the deadlock.

"We have to be realistic, if this goes on for several days, and we can see that there's no movement in either of the candidates being able to get two-thirds of the vote, we probably would have to think of a third consensus candidate for the region, but we think the time hasn't come for that yet," he said.

Washington's U.N. ambassador, John Bolton, had been due to meet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington Monday, but stayed in New York to bolster support for Guatemala's candidacy. Bolton said he was ready for the long haul, noting that in 1979, a battle for a seat between Latin American contenders Colombia and Cuba went on for 154 ballots before a compromise candidate was found. Mexico was elected on the 155th ballot.

Bolton said that, for Washington, preventing Venezuela from winning a seat was important in ensuring that the work of the Security Council is not disrupted.

"It's very rare for the United States to say anything in a Security Council race, and we didn't do this because of expectation of votes on the Council," he said. "We did it because of our concern for the integrity of the Council itself."

Balloting for four other non-permanent Council seats Monday went smoothly. Belgium and Italy were elected without opposition for European seats, and South Africa was unopposed for an African seat. Indonesia easily defeated Nepal in the first round of a race for an Asian seat.