- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2011

The new Republican majority in the House is poised to revive some old battles over the U.S. government’s financial contribution to the United Nations, vowing once again to use the power of America’s purse to force what it calls needed reforms at the world body.

New House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen told The Washington Times that she plans to use the threat to withhold U.S. dues payments to force U.N. officials to cut costs and clean up the organization’s image, a sharp break from the approach and political rhetoric used when Democrats ran the House.

“The majority of our members are on board to reform the corrupt and mismanaged U.N. and get a much better return for our dollars,” the Florida Republican said in an interview. “Cutting the budget is not enough, because you need to reform the monster, you need to reform the beast, and if you don’t get fundamental reform, you are still rewarding a corrupt, mismanaged agency.”

Before the Obama administration came to power, the issue of U.S. “arrears” to the U.N. was a long-running battle on Capitol Hill and a diplomatic sore spot for the State Department, which argued the U.S. failure to pay its dues undercut other foreign-policy goals.

One early sign of Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen’s seriousness: The first scheduled hearing of her committee was titled “The United Nations: Urgent Problems That Need Congressional Action.” Originally set for Jan. 12, the hearing was postponed last week after the shootings in Tucson, Ariz., and now is slated for Jan. 25.

Rep. Howard L. Berman, California Democrat, who surrendered the committee gavel to Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen, said he shares some of the concerns about the U.N., but warned that tying U.S. dues directly to reforms undermines the U.N.’s positive work and would end up costing the American taxpayer more money.

“That would be penny-wise and pound-foolish,” Mr. Berman told The Times.

He said that “the whole international relations budget is at risk and is going to face some cuts unless people understand that — whether it’s the U.N. or our foreign-assistance programs or the strength of our diplomatic corps — this fundamentally undermines U.S. national-security interests and U.S. foreign-policy interests.”

The Foreign Affairs Committee doesn’t have final say over how much money is spent, but the panel provides the Appropriations Committee with a policy blueprint for foreign-affairs spending.

Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen called the new Republican head of the key Appropriations subcommittee, Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, a “willing partner.”

The Florida lawmaker said she plans to introduce legislation next month to strengthen oversight and reform of U.N. agencies, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), while cutting funding for the Human Rights Council, which critics say has exhibited an anti-Israel bias and includes countries that violate the rights they vow to protect.

The bill also will call for all contributions to the international body to be voluntary, she said.

“We’ve approached this [in the past] with no strings attached, and we pay every cent of the contributions that the U.N. assesses us,” she said. “Then the de facto policy becomes, ‘Money now, reform never.’ So we have to ask ourselves: What are we getting from the U.N. in return?”

While it is too early to tell whether Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen’s efforts will be successful — and its chances in the Democrat-led Senate and with the Obama White House are much weaker — the push highlights an enduring divide over the usefulness of the U.N. and whether Congress should pay its dues without any quid pro quo. The U.S. pays about 22 percent of the total U.N. budget.

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

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