A high-ranking Venezuelan diplomat defended North Korea's right to test missile, saying Wednesday that every country has the right to develop weapons and international superpowers such as the United States cannot impose disarmament on smaller nations.

Mari Pili Hernandez, Venezuela's deputy foreign minister for North America, said weapons "also serve for defense, and that's why we cannot allow countries that don't accept disarmament and don't organize disarmament campaigns to try to impose upon other states."

"All states have the sovereign rights to develop the weapons they consider necessary," said Hernandez, referring to North Korea's recent missile tests.

CountryWatch: Venezuela

President Hugo Chavez, an outspoken critic of Washington's alleged hegemony in international affairs, has sought to improve Venezuela's ties with both Iran and North Korea. The leftist leader is expected to visit both countries before year's end.

Last week, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez rejected U.S. criticism of Chavez's plans to visit North Korea and accused Washington of a campaign to demonize smaller nations. He said North Korea's missile tests had not affected Chavez's plans to visit the communist-led country.

Spokesmen for the Bush administration have criticized Venezuelan officials for going against overwhelming world opinion by saying North Korea had every right to conduct the missile tests.

Hernandez accused the United States of "unleashing a furious campaign on the international level" to discourage other countries from backing Venezuela's bid for a seat on the U.N. Security Council.

"Our country has the morality to stand up before the world's nations and talk about peace, it has the morality to talk about international laws because we respect them and it has such high morality that it worries the immoral ones," she said.

Washington officials have encouraged Latin American and Caribbean nations to vote for Guatemala's bid to hold the region's rotating seat on the 15-member Security Council, which may soon have high-stakes decisions to make about nuclear moves by Iran and North Korea.

If Latin American and Caribbean countries fail to reach consensus on a regional representative, the U.N. General Assembly of 191 nations will select one in October.

The Security 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. New council members will take their seats Jan. 1.