UNITED NATIONS Iran has withdrawn its bid for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council amid growing criticism of what one advocacy group said on Friday was Tehran's "appalling human rights record."
The spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, Mark Kornblau, welcomed the announcement, saying: "It's a step in the right direction for the Human Rights Council."
U.N. diplomats told Reuters Iran had informed other Asian delegations it had withdrawn its candidacy for a seat on the 47-nation council based in Geneva, which is responsible for monitoring rights around the globe.
One Western diplomat said Tehran had pulled out after it became apparent it might not secure enough votes to win a seat, which would have embarrassed Iran when council elections take place next month.
Iran told the so-called Asia group of U.N. states it was dropping out "in the interest of solidarity with the rest of the group," the diplomat said.
Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said that "mounting global opposition has forced them out of the race."
Hicks welcomed what she described as a clear condemnation of Iran's "appalling human rights record."
In December 2009, the U.N. General Assembly condemned Iran for a violent crackdown on protesters after presidential elections last year that Iran's opposition says were rigged.
Human Rights Watch has criticized the process of electing members to the U.N. rights council. Often the five regional groups -- Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Western Europe and other states -- have uncontested ballots for their allotted seats.
"This shows that when there's a choice, it makes a difference," Hicks said.
With the withdrawal of Iran, there are no longer any contested ballots, she added. The countries running for the four Asian seats are Malaysia, Maldives, Qatar and Thailand.
The elections will take place during a meeting of the General Assembly on May 13.
Last year the United States successfully campaigned for a seat on the Human Rights Council, a body the previous U.S. administration had shunned as anti-Israeli and soft on a number of authoritarian governments.
When Washington decided to join the council, U.S. President Barack Obama and his U.N. ambassador Susan Rice said it would be better to try to change the often criticized Human Rights Council from within.
(Editing by Anthony Boadle)