Venezuela condemned what it called U.S. diplomatic pressure against its bid for a U.N. Security Council seat, saying Washington is trying to lobby Latin American nations to keep Venezuela off the council because it would stand up to the Bush administration.

Maripili Hernandez, Venezuela's deputy foreign minister for North America, said in a statement Tuesday that the United States "is worried that a small country like Venezuela can stand up to the empire with dignity and strength."

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's government, which has close ties with Iran and Cuba and has opposed the war in Iraq, is competing with U.S. ally Guatemala for a regional seat. The dueling bids are expected to be a test of support for the leftist Chavez in Latin America.

The council has five permanent members with veto power — the United States, Britain, Russia, China and France — and 10 non-permanent members that serve two-year terms but have no power to veto resolutions.

The U.N. General Assembly will elect new council members in October, and they will take their seats Jan. 1. Consensus candidates are almost always approved by the assembly, and in the case of contested races its 191 members will select the new council member from Latin America and the Caribbean.

The U.S. has not made an official announcement that it is opposing Venezuela but has made clear that it favors Guatemala. U.S. officials have expressed concerns about what they call Venezuela's confrontational stances in foreign policy.