Jordan's UN Ambassador Prince Zeid al Hussein announced his candidacy on Tuesday to be the next UN secretary-general, becoming the fifth candidate and the first Muslim to enter the race to succeed Kofi Annan. Jordan sent a letter to the president of the UN Security Council formally submitting the candidacy of Zeid, a widely respected diplomat and former UN peacekeeper who is a cousin of King Abdullah II. Jordan also sent a letter to General Assembly President Jan Eliasson asking that the other 191 UN member states be informed of his candidacy. "We believe there is considerable scope to be given by the Security Council and the General Assembly to a Muslim candidate who is familiar with the UN but not of the UN," Zeid told The Associated Press. He said considering a Muslim candidate was especially important in light of recent events, which include the Israeli-Hizbullah conflict, an upsurge in Israeli-Palestinian fighting in Gaza, and Iran's refusal to suspend its uranium enrichment program. Annan's second five-year term ends on Dec. 31 and most diplomats generally agree that the next secretary-general should come from Asia, part of a tradition to rotate between regions in awarding the job. Jordan is part of the Asian group at the United Nations. The four other candidates vying to succeed Annan are South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, UN Undersecretary-General for Public Affairs Shashi Tharoor who is from India, Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, and former UN disarmament chief Jayantha Dhanapala, a Sri Lankan. The next secretary-general must be approved by the General Assembly, based on a recommendation from the 15-member Security Council, where the five permanent members - the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France - have veto power. Council members have been holding informal consulations for several months and in late July they held their first informal poll. In that secret ballot, members checked one of three boxes for each candidate: "Encourage," "discourage," and "no opinion." South Korea's foreign minister did the best, with 12 council nations encouraging him to run, one discouraging him and two giving no opinion. India's Tharoor was next, with 10 votes of encouragement, two of discouragement and three giving no opinion. Thailand's Surakiart, the first announced candidate, got seven votes of encouragement and three against, and Dhanapala got five votes of encouragement and six against. The council put off another straw poll in August, and several members encouraged new candidates to come forward. In addition to Zeid, others mentioned as possible candidates include Kemal Dervis, the Turkish chief of the UN Development Program, and Goh Chok Tong, former prime minister of Singapore. A new straw poll is likely to be held sometime in September. The choice of Annan's successor is also expected to be a key behind-the-scenes topic at the annual ministerial meeting of the General Assembly which begins on Sept. 19. Zeid, 42, has served as Jordan's UN ambassador since 2000, and has taken on several challenging assignments. An expert in the field of international justice, he played a central role in the establishment of the International Criminal Court, the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal. In September 2002 he was elected the first president of its governing body. In 1997, as Jordan's deputy UN ambassador, Zeid was the first diplomat to publicly demand a UN report on the 1995 massacre of thousands of Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica. His campaign culminated in the General Assembly's call for a definitive account, which led to a report by Annan on the failures to protect the civilians. The prince's two-year stint as a political affairs officer in the UN peacekeeping mission in former Yugoslavia from 1994-96 led to a decade of work on U.N. peacekeeping issues. In mid-2004, following allegations of widespread abuse by UN peacekeepers, Annan appointed him an advisor on sexual exploitation and abuse. In early 2005, Zeid produced a report - subsequently endorsed by world leaders at the September 2005 millennium summit - outlining a strategy to eliminate sexual exploitation and abuse in UN peacekeeping operations. Zeid said in a statement on his candidacy that the United Nations cannot successfully mediate conflicts and coordinate massive relief operations "without a genuine renewal to make it a 21st century agent for change and progress." A revitalized United Nations must reflect the initiatives of a new generation of leaders in promoting development, peace and human rights, he said. It must also "serve as a bridge between cultures and faiths in search of peace and development" and act "with vision and clarity" as a peacekeeper and mediator to address today's threats. The ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and terrorist attacks starting with Sept. 11, 2001 "have made plain the urgent need to prevent extremism from succeeding in creating further victims and divisions between peoples," Zeid said. "A United Nations that understands the sources of these schisms, where they occur, and can speak to all sides with experience and credibility, can play an important role in resolving these dangerous conflicts," he said.