At U.N., Venezuelan leader calls Bush 'the devil'
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez came to the United Nations in New York on Wednesday and showed precisely why the Bush administration is working hard to make sure his country doesn't win a seat on the Security Council next month.
Chavez, fresh from meeting with some of the U.S.'s other ardent adversaries last week in Cuba, denounced President Bush as "the devil" and a "world dictator" when it was his turn to address the U.N. assembly, a day after Bush made a speech from the same lectern.
"Yesterday, the devil came here," Chavez said, drawing giggles from the audience as he crossed himself, looked toward the heavens and said the podium "still smells of sulfur today."
"The President of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the devil, came here talking as if he owned the world," Chavez said.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Chavez's remarks were "not becoming for a head of state." Speaking to reporters in New York, she said she was "not going to dignify a comment by the Venezuelan president to the president of the United States."
U.S. officials are campaigning hard to deny Chavez that kind of stage and exposure in a battle shaping up over the Security Council seat.
Both sides have been working hard to line up votes for the secret tally in the General Assembly on Oct. 16, with the U.S. pushing Guatemala as an alternative.
Countries ranging from China to Russia to Iran have declared their support for Venezuela, and Chavez said Wednesday that his country also has the backing of many other nations, including Argentina, Brazil and members of the Arab League.
"We will win," Chavez said last week in Havana during the Nonaligned Summit. "Venezuela is going to the United Nations, to the Security Council, even though the gringos and the imperialists don't want it."
Diplomats and analysts say the scales have tipped in Chavez's favor as the vote nears, due to Guatemala's poor human rights record and Venezuela's financial assistance to many nations. One U.N. diplomat said Guatemala's bid also has been damaged by U.S. support because Bush is widely unpopular in many developing nations.
"Our sense is that Venezuela enjoys strong support in the General Assembly, especially since the U.S. said they don't want Venezuela at all costs," said the diplomat, who asked not to be identified. "There is a strong anti-U.S. feeling."
Gert Rosenthal, Guatemala's foreign minister, said last week that he remains optimistic about his country's chances, rejecting the notion that Guatemala is merely acting at the behest of the U.S. He said Guatemala is concentrating on securing the support of about 30 undecided nations.
"We have an independent foreign policy," said Rosenthal, who was lobbying delegates at the Havana summit. "We are not the candidate of anyone except ourselves."
Should Venezuela win the seat, analysts are uncertain what Venezuela's two-year term on the U.N. Security Council would mean for world affairs or U.S. foreign policy beyond providing Chavez with a platform for bashing the U.S.
Already, Chavez has announced his support for Iran in its nuclear standoff with the West and would almost certainly vote against sanctions on Tehran. But some analysts said U.S. concerns are overblown given that Venezuela would not have a veto and that sanctions and other Security Council actions require the support of nine of its 15 members.
Edward Luck, a U.N. expert at Columbia University, predicted that Venezuela would likely temper its rhetoric and actions on the Security Council or it would quickly become isolated.
"Quite often, when countries have very difficult bilateral relations with the U.S., they all of a sudden become tame and quiet on the Security Council, not as a favor to the U.S. but because of the political culture on the council, which is to find consensus and common ground," Luck said. "The Security Council is not a place for grandstanding."