Italy's foreign minister, opening an international human rights meeting, called Monday for the Council of Europe to include the United States and Canada.

Minister Gianni De Michelis also endorsed a proposal that the Council's assembly develop into a new body bringing together the West and the former Soviet bloc.His proposals came as human rights representatives from Europe, the United States and Canada marked the 40th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights signed by Council members in Rome.

"The Council of Europe, faithful to the universal vocation of democratic values that it defends, must therefore adapt to new realities, through an open attitude allowing it to involve all the countries of the CSCE," said De Michelis.

The Council of Europe, the oldest postwar body promoting European cooperation, is hoping to emerge as a political counterpart to organizations like NATO, which has stressed military cooperation, and the European Community, which has focused on economic cooperation.

The Council hopes to take on activities of the CSCE, or Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, a loosely defined body of 34 nations including the United States and Canada that has served as a forum for talks between Cold War enemies.

De Michelis said that close ties among Western Europe, the United States and Canada were essential to the future of the council.

The possibility was discussed in September in a meeting of parliamentary representatives of CSCE countries to discuss setting up an "Assembly of Europe."