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Countries vying for seats on U.N. Security Council

Croatia and the Czechs, and Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic hope for spots on the decision-making body.

October 16, 2007|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — Vietnam's glossy campaign brochure for today's Security Council elections proudly declares in capital letters that it is "an unresponsible member."

The Vietnamese probably meant that their nation is indeed a responsible U.N. member -- but what is lost in translation doesn't really matter, because they face no competition for the Asian seat in the vote to fill five rotating council posts.

Libya, another shoo-in, actually was considered an unresponsible member. The U.S. blocked its bid to join the council twice in the last 15 years because of its alleged sponsorship of terrorist groups and the 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. But after paying compensation for the 270 Lockerbie victims and giving up its nuclear weapons program in 2003, the onetime international pariah has finally won a place at the premier diplomatic table.

Time to rotate

Every year, five of the 10 nonpermanent seats on the 15- nation Security Council change hands to give every country a chance to be on the United Nations' most important decision-making body. The Security Council's five permanent members are the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia.

The presence of Vietnam and Libya alongside their onetime enemies shows how the diplomatic landscape has evolved since the U.N. was founded after World War II, even if core structures such as the council have hardly changed.

The rotating seats are allocated to different regions of the world, which often preselect their candidates rather than having countries vie publicly for the required two-thirds majority approval of the General Assembly's 192 members. Burkina Faso already is pegged to take the other African seat.

But sometimes it gets nasty. Last year, a fight between Venezuela and Guatemala went 47 rounds, and ended with Panama assuming the seat as a compromise candidate.

This year, there is competition between Croatia and the Czech Republic for Eastern Europe's seat, and between Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic for Latin America's.

But diplomats pledged that the contest would not drag on. The ambassador of Costa Rica, Jorge Urbina, said the country with fewer votes after five rounds should drop out. "We are willing to withdraw if we are behind," he said. "But we don't think that will be the case."

Salsa party

The Dominican Republic started campaigning late, but has been working hard to win diplomats' votes, offering weekend trips to its luxury beach resorts, a food festival and a salsa party that shook the normally staid U.N. headquarters into the wee hours.

But overall, the campaigning has been mostly low-key -- and not proofread -- compared with past years, when nations treated diplomats to weeklong vacations, moonlit cruises and expensive watches.

The Costa Rican ambassador said his nation was offering nothing but its record at the U.N. "We will have a reception after we win," he said with a smile.

Croatia and the Czech Republic both brought their prime ministers to New York for last-minute lobbying, and the two worthies bumped into each other Monday in the red- carpeted halls. "My dear friend, my big competitor!" said the Czech leader, Mirek Topolanek, shaking hands with Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader.

Croatia may not yet have membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union like the Czech Republic, Sanader said. But at Croatia's recent food fest at the U.N., he said, it did have Hollywood heartthrob and U.N. goodwill ambassador Angelina Jolie.

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