Iran, where a woman convicted of adultery has been sentenced to death by stoning, is poised to become a board member of the new United Nations agency to promote equality for women.
The move has sparked outrage from the US and human rights groups. Some rights groups are also upset that Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to drive and are barred from many facilities used by men, is also trying to join the governing body of UN Women.
The General Assembly resolution adopted in July that merged four UN bodies dealing with women's issues into a single agency with greater clout to represent half the world's population calls for a 41-member executive board, with 35 members chosen by regional groups and six representing donor nations.
The Asian group has put forward an uncontested 10-nation list that includes Iran, UN diplomats said, and Saudi Arabia has been selected for one of two slots for emerging donor nations.
The 54 nations on the UN Economic and Social Council are expected to elect the UN Women's board on November 10 and it is possible that other Asian nations or emerging donor nations could become candidates, though diplomats said that is not likely.
Mark Kornblau, spokesman for the US Mission, said Iran's membership "would send the wrong signal at the start of this exciting new initiative".
"UN Women is a vital new agency tasked with promoting gender equality and women's empowerment worldwide," he said. "We and many other countries are concerned by the negative implications of Iran's potential board memberships, given its poor record on human rights and the treatment of women.
The stoning sentence against the 43-year-old woman, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, has raised an international outcry, embarrassing Iran.
A resolution adopted by the General Assembly last year expressed "deep concern" at Iran's increasing use of executions, death by stoning, torture, flogging and amputations, and its increasing discrimination against religious, ethnic and other minorities.
Philippe Bolopion, UN advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said "it's puzzling that Iran would have the nerve to be a candidate for the board of UN Women, and even more puzzling if the Asia group lets Iran get away with it". He added: "Having on top of it Saudi Arabia, a country with a track record on women's rights as horrendous as Iran's, would add insult to injury."