The Government is withdrawing New Zealand's bid to be elected to the Human Rights Council.
Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully says New Zealand pulled out of the running after the United States indicated it would seek a seat.
Mr McCully says the decision avoids having four countries contest the three positions available to Western nations.
He says the Human Rights Council has been widely criticised, and it had been New Zealand's intention to provide a force for change and improvement.
But he says US membership of the council is more likely to create positive changes quickly.
The other Western nations seeking a position on the council are Belgium and Norway.
Prime Minister John Key says no deal was done with the US and there is no guarantee that New Zealand would have won a seat on the council even if it had stayed in the running.
But Labour says the Government's move is a backwards step for New Zealand's independent foreign policy, while the Greens say the Government is trying to earn "brownie points" with the US by dropping out.