Lawmaker: Withhold US money to force UN changes

AP News
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Posted: Apr 07, 2011 1:10 PM
Lawmaker: Withhold US money to force UN changes

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations on Thursday rejected House Republican demands to withhold American dollars from the world body to force changes, arguing such a move would undermine U.S. interests.

Testifying to Congress for a second straight day, Susan Rice faced tough questions from lawmakers frustrated with the United Nations' spending practices, attempts at reform and criticism of Israel by its Human Rights Council.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, insisted that the only solution was for the United States to withhold its payments. Ros-Lehtinen also plans to introduce legislation next week that would make U.S. payments voluntary.

"Almost every productive U.S. effort at reforming the U.N. has been based on withholding our contributions unless and until needed reforms are implemented," the lawmaker said, citing a similar move in the 1990s under legislation sponsored by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., and Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., now the vice president.

Rice said Republican and Democratic administrations have found such a practice doesn't work.

"It is counter to our interests to use withholding of dues as a means of trying to obtain our policy objectives," Rice said. "It's counterproductive and the record shows it."

Across the Capitol, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the world body is doing what it can to reduce its budget and said he has instructed his senior advisers to come with a 3 percent cut.

At the same time, "We need to have robust financial support from the United States," he said after meeting with the top members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The U.S. is the largest single contributor to the U.N., responsible for 22 percent of the U.N.'s regular budget and 27 percent of the money for peacekeeping operations.

The Obama administration is seeking $3.54 billion for the United Nations and other international agencies, and peacekeeping efforts in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

Several Republicans on the committee echoed Ros-Lehtinen's complaints and said a nation facing a $1.6 trillion deficit can't afford to spend on the United Nations.

Rep. Dana Rohrbacher, R-Calif., offered a fresh argument.

"The United Nations is being used as a vehicle to see how global government would function," he said. "If there's anything that would convince us we should not be moving toward global government, it is the folly of the United Nations."

That drew a quick retort from Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia, who called Rohrbacher's comments "rehashed right-wing claptrap."

Democrats on the panel argued that withholding funds would diminish the U.S. leverage. The committee's top Democrat, Rep. Howard Berman of California, pointed out that when the U.S. withheld funds in the 1990s, the United States lost its seat on a critical U.N. budget panel.

He said such a step "would severely hinder our ability to pursue U.S. foreign policy and national security interests, support our allies and achieve the reforms" that both Republicans and Democrats seek.

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Associated Press writer Desmond Butler contributed to this report.