Venezuela Pushing for Dominican to Take U.N. Seat

The foreign ministers of Venezuela and Guatemala failed to break a deadlock in their battle for a seat on the U.N. Security Council at a meeting Thursday, but the search for a compromise candidate is continuing with the Dominican Republic the newest entry.

Latin American diplomats were hopeful that the high-level talks hosted by Ecuador could break the impasse after 41 ballots failed to produce a winner, but both countries refused to withdraw.

Guatemala has led Venezuela in all but one of the votes, where they tied, but it has been clear since the early ballots that neither can muster the needed two-thirds support in the 192-nation U.N. General Assembly to win the seat. The United States backs Guatemala, and leftist Venezuela is led by President Hugo Chavez who is fiercely anti-American.

"Although the meeting was an hour long, it only lasted 15 minutes because we told them we were not willing to step down," Guatemala's Foreign Minister Gert Rosenthal said as he left Ecuador's U.N. Mission.

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"We still believe we have the possibility of getting enough votes to prevail," he said. "Our position is different from theirs — they don't have any chances."

Rosenthal said that during the meeting Venezuela also refused to step down.

"Even we understand why, but we regret it because under normal circumstances that would be the logical thing to do," he said.

Venezuela's Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro left the meeting without commenting.

Ecuador's U.N. Ambassador Diego Cordovez, who chairs the 34-nation Latin American and Caribbean group, said "there are no more votes here" but it's difficult to find a solution if Venezuela and Guatemala refuse to give up their ambition to serve a two-year term on the U.N.'s most powerful body.

The talks "continue being very friendly," he said, but the Guatemalans still are not ready to withdraw. "Things got complicated for the Guatemalan foreign minister because the Congress in his country is telling him not to withdraw," Cordovez added.

A number of countries had been mentioned as possible compromise candidates including Bolivia, Costa Rica, Uruguay and Chile.

Venezuela initially proposed its close ally Bolivia as an alternative in hopes of breaking the deadlock, and Bolivia said it would agree to be a candidate if it helped reached a consensus. But it was unclear whether Bolivia, whose leftist president Evo Morales is among Chavez's closest allies, would be an acceptable compromise.

In Washington, Dominican President Leonel Fernandez said Thursday said Maduro called him to discuss the possibility of the Dominican Republic as a possible consensus candidate.

"Our answer was that we are going to consider that as a possibility," he said.

The Dominican Republic, which has good relations with the United States and Venezuela, has been campaigning for the Latin American region's other rotating seat, which Peru will vacate at the end of 2007.

The Guatemala-Venezuela voting is already the third longest in the U.N.'s 61-year history and it could become the second longest if no solution is found. Voting resumes Tuesday and the General Assembly president has set up a schedule of votes through Nov. 15.

Rosenthal was heading back to Guatemala Thursday and it appeared because of prior commitments that further high-level talks would have to wait until at least Wednesday, when El Salvador takes over the Latin American group's presidency for November.

The second highest number of ballots for a council seat was 52, set in 1960. After that, the General Assembly agreed to allow Poland and Turkey to serve on the council for one year each.

The record number is 155 rounds of voting, set in 1980. The General Assembly gave up on Cuba and Colombia after 154 rounds, and chose Mexico on the 155th, in early January of that year.