- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 19, 2010

When President Obama speaks to the United Nations this week, he’ll highlight gains from his policy of engaging the world body, but critics say that will come at the expense of U.N. reform - a Bush-era priority that, at least publicly, seems to have taken a back seat.

The White House has not permanently filled a key reform-centered ambassadorship to the United Nations after Mr. Obama’s first nominee, Jide Zeitlin, withdrew his name late last year amid controversy about some business dealings.

Despite evidence of mismanagement at the massive organization, critics say, the U.S. delegation has backed away from the tough watchdog role it played under President George W. Bush.

The Obama administration said its multilateralist approach has helped advance interests on scores of issues, including nuclear nonproliferation and female empowerment.

Officials say the delegation continues to air grievances on management shortcomings, but does so privately and strategically.

Veteran diplomat Joseph H. Melrose Jr. is the acting U.S. representative for management and reform.

John R. Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 2005 and 2006, said the Obama administration’s lack of a permanent ambassador to deal with the reform agenda sends the wrong message.

“That is the kind of signal in New York to the secretariat and other countries, basically, that the administration simply doesn’t care about reform, management, budget kinds of issues,” Mr. Bolton said.

Mr. Bolton, an outspoken critic of the U.N. political leadership, said the administration’s “political calculus is 180 degrees in the wrong direction.” He noted Mr. Obama’s decision to recognize the Human Rights Council and submit a review on human rights in the U.S. Among the council’s 14 member states are several nations accused of human rights violations, including Libya, Angola and Malaysia.

“By not taking a strong reform stand, they are actually undercutting the U.N.’s credibility,” he said of the U.S. delegation.

Indeed, the credibility of the 192-nation body has been marred by scandals such as the Iraq oil-for-food program and accusations of sexual misconduct by U.N. peacekeepers in Africa.

A departing U.N. investigator issued a stinging internal report this summer that accused Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of thwarting her efforts as head of the office of internal oversight services to probe mismanagement and corruption. In the memo, which was leaked to the press in July, Swedish auditor Inga-Britt Ahlenius concluded that the “secretariat now is in a process of decay” owing to Mr. Ban’s leadership.

U.S. Ambassador Susan E. Rice said in a statement one week later that she was “frustrated by the recent direction of the investigations division, which must more vigorously pursue fraud and misconduct.”

A U.S. official stressed that the administration’s low-key public response didn’t reflect the displeasure behind the scenes. Mr. Ban swiftly nominated a replacement for Ms. Ahlenius, partly because of U.S. pressure to keep the internal-oversight office as operationally independent as possible, the official said.

The official said the U.S. was instrumental, through behind-the-scenes lobbying, in getting the U.N. General Assembly to approve a new framework aimed at improving effectiveness and efficiency in global peacekeeping missions.

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