Panama wins seat on Security Council

Country emerges as compromise candidate

November 08, 2006|By Maggie Farley | Maggie Farley,LOS ANGELES TIMES

UNITED NATIONS -- Panama won a two-year term on the Security Council yesterday, making the powerful body's composition for 2007 much less contrarian than the U.S. feared had Venezuela won the Latin American seat.

But the new council still will include voices that could challenge the United States, such as South Africa, a leader of developing nations.

Panama emerged last week as the compromise candidate to fill the regional seat, ending a protracted standoff between U.S.-backed Guatemala and Venezuela, a vocal critic of Washington's policies. Panama received 164 votes in the 48th round of voting in the General Assembly, to applause and cheers in the vaulted chamber.

Venezuela had portrayed itself as a challenger to U.S. dominance at the United Nations and a champion of developing nations. But it lost backing after its leader, Hugo Chavez, called President Bush "the devil" and decried the world body as "useless" in a speech here in September.

However, active U.S. lobbying on behalf of Guatemala cost that country some support, say diplomats. Neither Latin American nation could garner the two-thirds majority among the 192 U.N. members needed to be elected, leading them to withdraw in favor of Panama.

Venezuela's U.N. ambassador, Francisco Javier Arias Cardenas, said that the U.S. support for Guatemala turned out to be a "fatal embrace" and that Washington should learn a lesson not to intervene in regional affairs. But he said that Panama was a good choice and served as "bridge between Central and South America."

Guatemalan Ambassador Jorge Skinner-Klee said that his country carried out its campaign with dignity and regretted being embroiled in a proxy battle. Guatemala will run for a seat in 2012, he said.

U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton welcomed Panama to the council. The "risk of disruption" posed by Venezuela had been eliminated, he said, and therefore Bush administration objectives achieved.

The U.S. and other countries had feared that Venezuela would use the Security Council as a stage to vocally oppose developed countries, and to block action on its allies, North Korea and Iran.

Panama, though a small country, is seen as a unifier of the disparate parts of the region, and its ambassador at the world body, Ricardo Alberto Arias, has been active in the reform of the U.N. human rights commission.

Panama will take the seat on Jan. 1, as one of five new temporary members of the Security Council. The others, in addition to South Africa, are Belgium, Indonesia and Italy. Five countries that will serve one more year in the rotating council seat are Congo, Ghana, Peru, Qatar and Slovakia.

The five permanent members of the Security Council are the U.S., Britain, China, France and Russia. They have veto power and compete for the support of rotating members during disagreements.

With Venezuela sidelined, the new council should function smoothly, analysts said yesterday.

Maggie Farley writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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