U.N. Reform Advocate Questions What U.S. Is Getting for Its $7B Contribution

By Patrick Goodenough | September 14, 2011 | 4:35am EDT

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, addresses a press conference on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to discuss the U.N. Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act. Standing with her is Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.). (Photo courtesy House Foreign Affairs Committee)

(CNSNews.com) – House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen acknowledged Tuesday that legislation aimed at making U.S. funding to the United Nations contingent on reforms lacks bipartisan support but said it was important to make a stand for “the principles that we believe in.”

As she prepares to mark up her bill in committee, Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) faces mounting opposition from the Obama administration and advocacy groups supportive of deeper U.S. engagement with the U.N.

The U.N. Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act (H.R. 2829) also lacks the support of a single House Democrat. The number of co-sponsors has climbed from 57 on Aug. 30 – the day the bill was introduced – to 74 as of Tuesday; all 74 are Republicans.

The bill seeks to change the way the U.N. is funded, allowing the U.S. and other member states to fund only those activities and agencies deemed efficient and in the national interest.

It also contains a raft of provisions targeting areas such as the Palestinian bid for U.N. recognition; the roles played at U.N. agencies by countries like Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia; and linking reforms to support for any new or expanded peacekeeping missions.

Addressing a press conference on Capitol Hill in front of pictures of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shaking hands with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi addressing the world body, Ros-Lehtinen made an appeal to “get back to the founding principles of the U.N.”

“Let’s not make it a staging ground for pariah states,” she said.

Flanked by Republican colleagues, Ros-Lehtinen defended the initiative against administration criticism, including the charge by a senior State Department official last week that it was “backwards.”

“Some call our bill ‘backwards’ but I don’t think it's backwards to demand transparency, accountability, and reform,” she said. “I do think the adjective ‘backwards’ too often applies to what we’re paying for at the U.N.”

American taxpayers provide 22 percent of the U.N.’s regular budget and 27 percent of the peacekeeping budget, and additional billions of dollars in “voluntary” contributions to miscellaneous U.N. agencies. The total U.S. contribution in fiscal year 2010 was $7.69 billion.

“What did U.S. taxpayers get in return for all of that money?” Ros-Lehtinen asked. “We got a U.N. that is increasingly non-transparent, unaccountable, ineffective, biased against the U.S., Israel, and other free democracies.”

‘This is what we stand for’

Foreign Affairs Committee ranking Democrat Rep. Howard Berman (Calif.) told the Foreign Policy blog “The Cable” last week that while he shares Ros-Lehtinen’s frustration about some U.N. actions, her bill contains “some radical proposals” and he could not see it becoming law.

Ros-Lehtinen said Tuesday she remained hopeful that the bill would draw bipartisan support but acknowledged the hurdles.

Flanked by GOP lawmakers, House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) talks on Capitol Hill Tuesday about the U.N. Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act. (Photo courtesy House Foreign Affairs Committee)

“Most of what we’re doing in the House has very little chance of becoming law, no matter what it is,” she conceded. “Does that mean we should stop doing things? Whether the Senate is going to pass it does not mean that we should not propose a bill that will put a marker down.”

“So yes, we can just say ‘This bill will never become law, therefore we won’t file a bill. And we won’t push for co-sponsors and we won’t try to move it on the floor.’ But that’s what we’re here to do – we’re here to say ‘this is what we stand for, these are the principles that we believe in.’ ”

U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice on Monday called the bill “fundamentally flawed in concept and practice”, telling reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast that the measure “sets us back, is self-defeating, and doesn’t work.”

The Better World Campaign, a U.N. engagement advocacy group affiliated to the United Nations Foundation and United Nations Association of the USA, has launched a petition drive aimed at countering the bill.

“The U.N. is playing a greater role in promoting American interests than ever before and we strongly oppose H.R. 2829, which threatens America’s leadership role at the United Nations and undermines our national security,” said BWC executive director Peter Yeo in a statement.

“Recent research shows that more than 60 percent of Americans support paying U.N. dues on time and in full,” he added. “Americans understand the value that the U.N. offers us in terms of security and long-term stability in an unpredictable world.”

In the view of Palestine Chronicle editor Ramzy Baroud, provisions in Ros-Lehtinen’s bill “are aimed at isolating Palestinians, stifling all criticism of Israel, and propping up Israel’s legitimacy in the face of international uproar resulting from Israel’s illegal occupation and continued violations of human rights.”

“Since they are clearly stated with the prior knowledge that they will not be met, Ros-Lehtinen’s intention is probably to take the U.S.’ relationship with the U.N. back to the dreadful days of neoconservative U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, who continues to serve as a bulwark for Israeli interests whenever possible,” Baroud wrote last week.

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