By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Syrian plans to run for a spot on the U.N. Human Rights Council met with sharp criticism from the United States and Israel on Thursday, while Tehran announced it had withdrawn its candidacy for the world body's rights watchdog.
The General Assembly's annual elections for the United Nations' 47-nation, Geneva-based human rights body will be held in November in New York. There will be 14 seats available for the five U.N. regional groups for three-year terms beginning in January 2014.
From the so-called Asia group, which includes the Middle East and Asia, seven countries - China, Iran, Jordan, Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Vietnam - will be vying for four seats, several diplomats from the Asia group said on Wednesday.
A spokesman for Iran's U.N. mission, however, said on Thursday that Iran had withdrawn its candidacy and did not provide an explanation.
"It (withdrawing) is a normal practice within all the U.N. regional groups," the spokesman said.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Rosemary DiCarlo said neither Syria nor Iran belonged on the U.N. rights council.
"Attempts by either country to join the Human Rights Council are highly inappropriate given existing Human Rights Council mandates to investigate human rights violations in these countries, their egregious records on human rights, and their on-going collaboration to suppress the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people," DiCarlo said.
Ambassador Ron Prosor of Israel, which like the United States has accused the Human Rights Council of unfairly criticizing the Jewish state while ignoring rights abuses by other countries, echoed DiCarlo's views.
"This might be a new world record for lunacy at the United Nations," Prosor said in an emailed statement to Reuters. He said having countries like Iran and Syria on the right council would be like "putting the Godfather in charge of a witness-protection program."
Several diplomats predicted that Syria would fail in its bid to join the U.N. rights watchdog when the 193-nation General Assembly votes in November.
Syria attempted to run for a seat on the rights council in 2011 but withdrew due to pressure from Western and Arab states. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government and rebels are locked in an increasingly sectarian civil war that has killed as many as 100,000 people, according to U.N. figures.
Syria's U.N. ambassador in New York had no comment.
Hillel Neuer, the head of UN Watch, a Geneva-based advocacy group that monitors the work of the United Nations and first raised the possibility that Iran and Syria might run, said other dubious candidates were Algeria, Chad, Cuba, China and Russia.
Rights advocates have successfully mounted campaigns against other candidates for the rights council in the past, including Belarus, Sri Lanka and Azerbaijan.
(Editing by Philip Barbara and Stacey Joyce)