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Middle East

Israel seeks seat on Security Council

It has indicated that it wants to join other countries in being allocated a rotating place on the Security Council for the first time in the 57-year history of the state. The move follows contacts including an unprecedented meeting between the foreign ministers of Israel and Pakistan, which both countries said was partly in recognition of Israel's withdrawal of troops and settlers from Gaza.

Sylvan Shalom, the Israeli Foreign Minister, told the UN General Assembly in New York this week that a seat on the Security Council would help Israel "take its rightful place as a country with full and equal rights in this institution". Israel was not a member of any voting bloc because of the hostility of Arab countries in the region until 2000, when it was admitted to the "west European and others group".

Although the group has been allowed to have a vice-president of the General Assembly for the first time - its UN ambassador, Dan Gillerman - membership of the group was conditional on it not having a seat on the Security Council. This was to ensure that the frequency with which the existing members took their seats was not reduced.

Mr Gillerman has just become the first Israeli to chair a session of the General Assembly since Abba Eban in the early 1950s. Mr Shalom said he had met counterparts from more than 10 Muslim and Arab countries this week - something he said would have been unthinkable even two years ago.

The highest profile foreign figure to back the bid is the controversial US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton. Mr Bolton told Jewish leaders in New York that it was no longer tenable to have a single UN member which was ineligible to be a Security Council candidate.

Mark Regev, a foreign ministry spokesman, said yesterday that "in a new climate and atmosphere" Israel judged that the right time had come to signify its desire to be a candidate for council membership.