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Panama expects U.N. approval

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UNITED NATIONS — The 192-member General Assembly will vote Tuesday morning on Panama's nomination for a seat on the U.N. Security Council, assembly spokeswoman Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte said. It is virtually certain to give its backing to the Central American nation for a two-year term on the U.N.'s most powerful body starting Jan. 1, and diplomats said they expect the assembly to act by consensus as well.

Latin American and Caribbean nations unanimously endorsed Panama for a seat on the U.N. Security Council Friday after Guatemala and Venezuela agreed to withdraw to break a deadlock that dragged on through 47 votes in the General Assembly.

"We are all happy, very happy. It was unanimous," said Argentina's U.N. Ambassador Cesar Mayoral, whose two-year term on the Security Council ends on Dec. 31.

The race for the council seat became highly political because the United States supported Guatemala over leftist Venezuela, led by the fiercely anti-American President Hugo Chavez. Chavez called Bush "the devil" in his speech in September to the General Assembly ministerial meeting.

Guatemala led Venezuela in all but one of the 47 ballots, but could not muster the two-thirds support needed to win in the General Assembly.

The foreign ministers of Guatemala and Venezuela met twice Wednesday and finally agreed to withdraw and support Panama, saying the country was a geographical meeting point between the north and south of Latin America and had good relations with both countries.

Action by the Latin American and Caribbean Group was held up for a day so that Caribbean countries could consult their capitals.

Panama's U.N. Ambassador Ricardo Alberto Arias said the country's diverse culture and different races and religion will help it "contribute to peace and international stability."

Arias stressed that together with Peru, whose term on the council goes through 2007, Panama will defend the interests of Latin American and Caribbean countries.

Arias was asked about withstanding the pressures from many countries as a member of the council.

"Panama has withstood international pressures from many countries during its history, and we've been able to handle them," he said.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said Thursday that Venezuela defeated itself with Chavez's "unconscionable" attack on Bush at the General Assembly. "It was an act of 'podiacide,"' otherwise known as shooting yourself in the foot, he told reporters.

Venezuela's U.N. Ambassador Francisco Arias Cardenas shot back: "They should learn their lesson about what arrogance, bullying and strong-arming mean."

The 10 non-permanent seats on the Security Council are filled by the regional groups for two-year stretches. The other five are occupied by the veto-wielding permanent members: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.