Sat, Oct 15, 2011 - Page 7 News List

US House panel approves bill to slash funds for UN

DIVIDED:Advocates of the bill argued that cutting billions of US dollars in aid to the UN would give the US leverage in pushing for change at the world body

AP, Washington

A deeply divided House of Representatives panel on Thursday approved a Republican bill that would slash US contributions to the UN, rejecting Democratic complaints that the measure would end US involvement in the world peacekeeping body and deliver a devastating financial blow.

One week after cutting US$50 million for a UN organization that helps women and children in developing countries, the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs targeted the billions of dollars the US contributes to the UN. Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the committee chairwoman and a fierce critic of the UN, argued that the legislation would give the US leverage in pushing for change at the UN.

“We will never achieve lasting, sweeping reforms if the US keeps paying in full what the UN dictates to us, with no consequences for the UN’s failures,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “We need a game-changer.”

The panel approved the bill on a partyline 23-15 vote. The action came despite US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s opposition and her vow to recommend to US President Barack Obama that he veto the legislation. That may not be necessary, however, as it is unclear when the full House will consider the measure, and it has little chance in the Democratic-led Senate.

Republican New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg also opposes the legislation, according to Representative Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat.

Clinton sent a strongly worded letter to the committee this week warning that the legislation would severely limit US participation in the world body, undercut US interests and damage the security of Americans at home and abroad.

“This bill would effectively cede American leadership, creating a void for our adversaries to fill,” Clinton wrote.

Nevertheless, the panel pressed ahead with the measure, with Republicans taking swipes at the UN.

“They’re really our buddy,” Republican Representative Dan Burton said sarcastically. “They vote with us almost never.”

Republican members said the UN Human Rights Council includes “gross human rights violators” — eg China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Cuba. A recent conference on nuclear disarmament was chaired by North Korea, and Iran is a member of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

“They’re appointing every crackpot regime to leadership positions,” Burton said.

Responding to the complaints, Democratic Representative Gary Ackerman said the UN “is not supposed to be our pal. We don’t own it ... If we agreed on everything, we wouldn’t need it.”

“Hope rests with the UN with all its flaws,” Ackerman added.

The legislation would pressure the UN to adopt a voluntary funding system by withholding 50 percent of the US non-voluntary regular budget contributions if, after two years, 80 percent of the UN regular budget is not funded on a voluntary rather than assessed basis.

In the 2010 budget year, the US provided US$7.7 billion to the UN for its regular budget, peacekeeping and other programs, up from US$6.1 billion the previous year. The US assessment is 22 percent of the total UN operating budget. By comparison, China pays 3 percent.

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