By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The Palestinians' push for upgraded status at the United Nations is likely to succeed, the president of the U.N. General Assembly said on Friday, while warning the United States against cutting U.N. funding over the issue.
Having failed last year to secure full U.N. membership due to U.S. opposition, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said last month he would ask the 193-nation General Assembly to approve a less ambitious promotion of the Palestinian Authority's observer status to "non-member state," like the Vatican. It is currently considered an "entity.
Vuk Jeremic, the Serbian president of the General Assembly, said Abbas was consulting with U.N. member states and was expected to call for a meeting on the Palestinian issue as early as next month, shortly after the November 6 U.S. presidential election.
"Most people expect that it is going to be the second half of November," the 37-year-old former Serbian foreign minister told Reuters in an interview.
"If they decide to go for it after these consultations, which is what President Abbas announced in his speech in September, most people expect that this is going to pass."
The United States and Israel have warned the Palestinians against seeking a status upgrade, suggesting that it could have financial implications for the Palestinian Authority.
U.N. diplomats and officials say they are also worried about a possible reduction of U.N. funding from the United States, which supplies 22 percent of the regular U.N. budget.
Jeremic said he did not want to lecture Washington, but voiced concern about a possible suspension U.N. funding due to the Palestinian issue, which he said would have "dire financial implications" for the United Nations.
"I don't think this would be in the interests of the United States to cut the financial aid, but I am not in a position to say to the United States what is it they should do," he said. "They know what is best for them, and that's what they are going to do."
The U.S. Congress froze some $200 million in much-needed financial aid to the Palestinians after they took their statehood campaign to the United Nations last year. Western officials say further aid reductions are likely, along with a possible freezing of U.N. funding.
The United States cut funding to the U.N. education and science agency, UNESCO, last year after it admitted the Palestinians as a full member.
A 1990s U.S. law prohibits U.S. funding to U.N. organizations that grant full membership to any group that does not have "internationally recognized attributes" of statehood.
Jeremic stressed that the Palestinians were not seeking U.N. membership, but to be recognized as a "non-member state."
Such an upgrade could nevertheless be uncomfortable for Israel. Being registered as a state rather than an entity would mean the Palestinians could join bodies such as the International Criminal Court and file complaints against Israel for its continued occupation.
The Palestinians need a simple majority for the upgrade, but predict that between 150 and 170 nations out of the 193 U.N. member states will vote in favor.
(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by David Brunnstrom)