Syria has backed down in the race for a seat on the UN atomic watchdog's board, leaving Afghanistan to take up the position instead, diplomats said Friday.
Both countries had been vying for the same seat on the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-member board that had come free for the so-called Middle East and South Asia (MESA) group with the expiry of Pakistan's one-year term.
"For the sake of unity within the MESA group, Syria has decided to drop its candidacy," Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told reporters.
"There will be only one candidate for the MESA group."
Other diplomats who attended behind-the-scene negotiations to reach consensus on the matter confirmed Soltanieh's comments.
But the official announcement was only set to be made to the IAEA's general conference later on Friday afternoon.
Had the MESA countries been unable to decide on a consensus candidate, the matter would have had to go to a vote by all of the IAEA's 145 member countries.
Syria's bid for a greater say within in the IAEA had run into fierce opposition by the United States, which alleges that Damascus was building a covert nuclear facility at a remote desert site called Al-Kibar until it was destroyed by Israeli bombs in September 2007.
'Victory for the credibility of the IAEA'
Until the nuclear watchdog had completed its investigation of the claims, there was no place on the IAEA board, Washington argued.
Syria has come under fire from a number of countries during the week-long general conference here for its perceived foot-dragging in the IAEA probe.
Afghanistan, which is a US ally, had announced its candidacy on Wednesday.
A total 11 board seats had been up for election at this year's general conference, with all of the other 10 adopted by consensus at the end of the morning session. But the choice of the MESA group was postponed until late Friday afternoon to give the countries concerned a chance to reach consensus.
A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that Syria's decision was "a victory for the credibility of the IAEA."
"It would have been absurd to have a country on the board that is under investigation for suspected secret nuclear activities," the diplomat said.
Afghanistan, which is now set to take up the position, "is a country that abides by its NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) commitment."
The battle between Damascus and Kabul "was creating an unnecessary polemic," the diplomat continued. "This isn't the right time. There are too many important issues."