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NEW YORK - Iran plans to vie for one of the temporary seats on the United Nations Security Council, according to a low-key announcement last week in a routine informational document distributed by the Asia Group of member states.

The same document announced Japan's candidacy for the seat, which is reserved for the region and will become vacant in September 2009.

Diplomats at UN headquarters here say Iran has little chance of beating Japan, particularly in view of the Security Council sanctions imposed on Iran for refusing to halt its nuclear program.

There are five permanent Security Council members - the United States, Russian, Britain, France and China - and 10 non-permanent members, elected by the General Assembly on a regional basis for two-year terms. Each September, five of the 10 rotating seats are vacated.

Senior Iranian officials recently began working through back channels to promote Iran's candidacy, diplomatic sources said.

The sources added that the U.S. and its Western allies at the UN are not likely to sit idly by as Iran promotes its bid for Security Council membership. A year ago the U.S. succeeded in blocking Venezuela's election, because of President Hugo Chavez's anti-American policy. Two years ago, Syria's membership as representative of the Arab Group also aroused discomfort among key member states. However, Syria maintained a low profile, and its membership period was characterized by a lack of notable activity.

Iran's announcement raised eyebrows among veteran diplomats.

"This is an act of defiance aimed especially against the U.S. and the West," a senior diplomat told Haaretz last Friday. "This is a country against whom a resolution including sanctions was passed, and it continues to systematically violate Security Council resolutions and is involved in smuggling arms to Lebanon."

Iran's announcement prompted reservations within the Asian Group as well, the same diplomat said.

Israel will run for a seat on the Security Council in 2019, according to an announcement in a document distributed by the Western European and Others Group. So far, no other member state in that group has announced plans to oppose Israel.

In the General Assembly elections later this month, Vietnam is up for election in the Asian Group, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic in the Latin American Group, Croatia and the Czech Republic in the Eastern European Group, and Burkina Faso and Libya in the African Group.