UNITED NATIONS — Facing an uphill struggle in an election next month, Israel announced Friday it was pulling out of a race for a seat on the U.N. Security Council.
Israel was in a three-way contest with Germany and Belgium for two seats representing the Western-democratic group of nations on the U.N.'s most powerful body starting in January.
The Security Council has five permanent members — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — and 10 members elected by the 193-member General Assembly for two-year terms.
Israel's U.N. Mission said in a statement Friday that "after consulting with our partners, including our good friends, the State of Israel has decided to postpone its candidacy for a seat on the Security Council."
"It was decided that we will continue to act with our allies to allow for Israel to realize its right for full participation and inclusion in decision-making processes at the U.N.," the statement said. "This includes the Security Council as well as an emphasis on areas related to development and innovation."
Israel's withdrawal virtually guarantees Germany and Belgium victory in the June 8 election and seats on the council.
Candidates for non-permanent seats on the Security Council are chosen by regional groups and for 55 years Israel was not part of a regional group, which barred it from many U.N. positions.
The late U.S. ambassador Richard Holbrooke succeeded in 2000 in getting the Western European and Others regional group known as WEOG to invite Israel to be a temporary member, which later was extended indefinitely.
Israel announced its withdrawal minutes before WEOG candidates were scheduled to appear and answer questions Friday afternoon from U.N. member states.
Germany's U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen said in response to a question about Israel's withdrawal: "We have never run against a country. There is nothing where we really oppose each other. We went for our own program. We asked support, and we want also to seek high support from you."
He noted that there's been a lot of discussion at the U.N. on whether regional groups should put forward contested slates or uncontested slates.
"I'm in favor of having more candidates," Heusgen said, even though "this is tougher" because candidates then have to say what they stand for and respond to sometimes tough questions about their country.
"So therefore to a certain degree — this will surprise you — I regret that Israel withdrew from the race," he said.