UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ U.S. Ambassador John Bolton warned U.N. members Wednesday that the United Nations cannot play a global leadership role unless it establishes a new Human Rights Council that bars countries that carry out rights abuses.

Bolton spoke at closed-door negotiations on a new human rights watchdog to replace the current Human Rights Commission which has been widely criticized as an irrelevant body that is powerless to stamp out abuses because its members include some of the worst offenders and it has no mandate to punish violators.

``The current situation is untenable and must not be allowed to continue,'' Bolton said in a speech released by the U.S. Mission. ``Membership on the commission by some of the world's most notorious human rights abusers mocks the legitimacy of the commission and the United Nations itself.''

Members in recent years have included Sudan, Libya, Zimbabwe and Cuba.

At a U.N. summit in September, world leaders agreed to replace the commission with a new body but they left the details to the deeply divided General Assembly. With the Geneva-based commission scheduled to meet in mid-March, pressure has intensified to reach an agreement but serious differences remain.

While there is a broad consensus about the need for reform, opinions diverge over the size and membership of the new council and how powerful it should be. Some countries _ including Cuba and members of the Islamic conference _ want the body to be weakened even further, calling for all forms of censure to be eliminated.

Bolton said the United States wants the 53-member commission replaced by a council with a maximum of 30 members chosen primarily for their commitment to human rights by a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly.

The United States has agreed to the concept of ``universal periodic review'' of the human rights records of all countries, but he stressed that this should not be the council's priority. Instead, the council should respond to real-time evidence of gross human rights abuses and adopt resolutions criticizing specific countries by a simple majority _ not a two-thirds vote, he said.

Earlier this month, Bolton told reporters all five permanent Security Council members _ the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain _ should have the right to sit on the new Human Rights Council. Russia and China questioned this and he didn't mention it in his speech.