U.S. Lawmaker Urges U.S. to Withhold Funding From Corrupt, Iran-Rewarding United Nations

By Patrick Goodenough | December 9, 2009 | 5:02 AM EST

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen holds a copy of Honduras’ constitution during a press conference with interim President Roberto Micheletti in Tegucigalpa on Monday, Oct. 5, 2009. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – A leading conservative lawmaker points to Iran’s new leadership positions at the United Nations as another reason for her colleagues to pass a bill linking U.S. funding of the world body to “concrete, structural, sweeping reforms throughout the U.N. system.”

“Congress must pass pending legislation to withhold U.S. taxpayer dollars from a U.N. wracked by corruption and hijacked by rogue regimes like Iran,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said Tuesday.

The Florida Republican, ranking minority member on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, last January introduced the United Nations Transparency, Accountability and Reform Act.

She pointed to Iran’s Dec. 2 election to chair for the next year a Vienna-based U.N. policy-making body on drug-related issues, and its election on Monday to chair this week’s biennial general conference of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), also located in Vienna.

UNIDO Director-General Kandeh Yumkella meets Iran’s then newly-appointed permanent representative to the U.N. in Vienna, Ali-Asghar Soltanieh, on May 9, 2006. (UNIDO photo)

In both instances, the positions were earmarked for a member of the Asian regional group, and in both cases that group nominated Iran.

A European Union diplomat explained earlier that “it is the custom that others accept the nominations of the regional groups,” adding that “there are no sanctions or limitations when it comes to Iran’s work in the U.N. and the nomination by the Asian group has therefore been [accepted].”

Ros-Lehtinen noted that the board of governors of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – also based in the Austrian capital – had just days earlier censured Iran over its uranium enrichment activities.

“Am I missing something here?” she asked. “After continuing to delay, deceive, and manipulate the U.N. and responsible nations, it is ludicrous that Iran would be entrusted to helm an agency with the mandate to fight illegal drugs.”

“But this is only the latest – and surely not the last – example of the inmates running the asylum at the U.N.” Ros-Lehtinen continued. “Iran already chairs the board of the notoriously-flawed U.N. Development Program and holds several other leadership positions within the U.N. system.”

‘Funding should be on a voluntary basis’

The U.N. Transparency, Accountability and Reform Act has the support of 101 co-sponsors, all Republicans.

Ros-Lehtinen’s text notes, among other things, that the U.S. pays “billions of dollars” to the U.N. each year; U.S. assessed contributions are capped at 22 percent of the total budget.

At the same time, under current rules and contribution levels, a group of countries which together pay less than one percent of the total budget could together make up the two-thirds majority needed for important budget-related votes.

The bill calls for a shift from funding the U.N. on an assessed basis to a voluntary one.

Other elements include:

-- It should be U.S. policy to oppose any changes to the Security Council that would diminish U.S. influence on the body, undermine its effectiveness or give any newcomers veto power. (The veto is currently limited to the permanent five – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China.)

-- The U.S. should deny funding to the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, unless it is certified that no employee or other person associated with the agency is a member of a foreign terrorist organization, or has “propagated, disseminated, or incited anti-American, anti-Israel, or anti-Semitic rhetoric or propaganda.”

-- The secretary of state must carry out an audit of the functions of a list of specified U.N. bodies dealing with the Palestinian issue. In order “to avoid duplicative efforts and funding with respect to Palestinian interests and to ensure balance in the approach to Israeli-Palestinian issues,” the secretary must then recommend the elimination of any entities and efforts found to be duplicating functions.

-- The U.S. must withhold a proportion of funding to the U.N. that would go to the Human Rights Council unless the secretary of state can certify that the Geneva-based body includes no member state which is subject to Security Council sanctions; under Security Council-mandated investigation for human rights abuses; found to have provided support for international terrorist groups; or been designated by the U.S. as a “country of particular concern” for religious freedom violations. (China and Saudi Arabia are among current members of the Human Rights Council which would fall into those categories.)

Progress unlikely

The U.N. Transparency, Accountability and Reform Act, which has been in the Foreign Relations Committee since mid-January, is unlikely to make progress in the Democratic-controlled House.

Only one Democrat, Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee, signed up as a cosponsor in January. (Two weeks later, he withdrew his name. His office did not respond Tuesday to queries on the decision.)

Congressional Democrats in general support President Obama’s policy of deepening cooperation with the U.N. after eight years of less enthusiastic engagement under his predecessor.

The administration stood for election to the Human Rights Council this year, for the first time since the body was established in 2006.

It is also reportedly considering rejoining UNIDO, 13 years after the U.S. withdrew amid criticism over the agency’s purpose and effectiveness.
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow