Reuters: Iran, under U.N. Security Council sanctions over its nuclear program, will seek a seat on the council in an election this week that will pit it in a probably hopeless contest against Japan.
By Patrick Worsnip
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 12 (Reuters) – Iran, under U.N. Security Council sanctions over its nuclear program, will seek a seat on the council in an election this week that will pit it in a probably hopeless contest against Japan.
The 192-member U.N. General Assembly will stage its annual elections on Friday for five of the 10 nonpermanent seats on the 15-nation council, the powerhouse of the United Nations with the ability to impose sanctions and dispatch peacekeepers. Winners serve a two-year term starting on Jan. 1.
Apart from the Iranian-Japanese standoff for an Asian seat, a complex battle has shaped up between Muslim Turkey, politically controversial Austria and financially struggling Iceland for two European seats that will fall vacant.
The two other seats are virtually certain to go to Mexico and Uganda, which are standing unopposed by other nations in their regional groupings. The five outgoing countries are Belgium, Indonesia, Italy, Panama and South Africa.
Few expect Iran to defeat heavyweight Japan, which has served nine previous terms on the council and is a prime contender for a permanent seat should the world's nations manage to agree on a way to expand the council.
The existing permanent and veto-holding members are the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China.
Diplomats say Japan is looking for victory in the first ballot. Western countries strongly oppose Iran's pursuit of uranium enrichment, most Arab states do not want Iran on the council and African countries mainly agree.
It is doubtful that even Iran expects to win. "The Iranian ambassador came to see me to ask for our vote in the election," said one Western envoy. "I don't know who had more difficulty keeping a straight face — him or me."
But diplomats will be looking to see how many countries vote for Iran in an election that could in part be an oblique comment on Tehran's arch-foe the United States. Strongly anti-American governments like those in Venezuela and Nicaragua may support the Iranian bid.
Seats on the council, even nonpermanent ones without the veto, give countries a say in the most important world issues and are seen as prestigious and potentially profitable if major powers need the votes of their smaller colleagues.
Under voting rules in the council, a coalition of seven nonpermanent members can block a resolution even if the big powers support it.
In the European grouping, Turkey is widely expected to win a seat on the council as it can count on the votes of most of the extensive Muslim bloc.
Until recently, Iceland was also seen as a strong contender but the global financial crisis which has crushed the its banks and threatened what its prime minister has termed national bankruptcy may have changed that.
That leaves Austria, where last month's elections that gave nearly a third of the votes to far-right parties have been noticed at the United Nations.
Despite that, Iceland's economic woes may have strengthened Austria's hand, diplomats say. "I think the Austrians are well placed," one Western diplomat said.
Western countries are hoping for an easier time on the council next year than they have had recently, when they have faced opposition not just from Russia and China but some elected members too over Iran, Myanmar and Zimbabwe.
Japan — assuming it wins a seat — is a Western ally, whereas its predecessor Indonesia was the only country not to back the latest sanctions against Iran. The West also expects Uganda to be more supportive than South Africa.
Elected members that will stay on the council for one more year are Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Croatia, Libya and Vietnam. (Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau. editing by Mohammad Zargham)