- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2006

NEW YORK — The United States will not seek a seat on the newly formed U.N. Human Rights Council, saying it wants to see how the project shakes out in the first year.

The United States was one of four members to vote against the new council, saying there was little guarantee that it would be a more credible or effective body than the Human Rights Commission it is replacing.

“The United States will work cooperatively with other member states to make the council as strong and effective as possible,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said yesterday. “We will support the council, and we will continue to fund it.”

He added, “We will work closely with partners in the international community to encourage the council to address serious cases of human rights abuse in countries such as Iran, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Burma, Sudan and North Korea.”

The administration stressed that it would consider running for a seat next year.

By yesterday afternoon, more than 40 countries — including known human rights offenders China, Russia, Algeria and Pakistan — had declared their candidacies for the May 9 elections.

The U.S. decision not to seek election to the body apparently was reached Wednesday in a meeting attended by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton and senior National Security Agency advisers.

Miss Rice, a State Department official said, was “the key decision-maker” in a room with differing points of view.

“She came to the conclusion that it made sense to have a posture of constructive skepticism,” the official said on background.

“There was a disagreement on the tactics and the way to frame this,” the official said. “There was some robust conversation about how to do this. Not everyone was in the same place.”

Several diplomats and human rights observers suggested yesterday that the United States, a frequent scold in the old Human Rights Commission, might not have been elected to the new body.

“You’ve got a lot of frustration with the United States in terms of human rights,” said one envoy from a moderately repressive country. “Not to mention Guantanamo and Iraq. It would be wrong to assume that everyone is eager for the United States of America to arbitrate on this commission.”

Mr. Bolton told reporters at the United Nations yesterday that the Bush administration did not have a fear of rejection, but was eager to show that it is “no longer business as usual.”

“I think the concern is based more on other priorities we have in the management area,” Mr. Bolton said.

However, he alluded to competition, noting there are already more candidates for the “Western Europe and Others” group, to which Washington belongs, than the seven seats reserved for it.

Nations must receive a majority of General Assembly votes to serve on the Geneva-based Human Rights Council. Seats are assigned to each region to ensure geographic representation among the 47 seats.

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