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Lawmaker wants to set terms on U.N.

‘Voluntary’ aid eyed for reform

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Arguing that the United States can no longer blindly turn over billions of dollars to the United Nations, members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said the new Congress should withhold contributions to the global body until it adopts serious reforms.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Florida Republican who now heads the committee, said she plans to push legislation that "conditions our contributions — our strongest leverage — on real, sweeping reform, including moving the U.N. regular budget to a voluntary funding basis."

"That way, U.S. taxpayers can pay for the U.N. programs and activities that advance our interests and values, and if other countries want different things to be funded, they can pay for it themselves," Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said in her prepared remarks.

Many Democrats and some of the U.N. advocates who were called to testify Tuesday agreed that the world body has its shortcomings, but they warned that withholding contributions would signal to the rest of the world that the United States is more interested in tearing down the U.N. than playing a constructive role in efforts aimed at rooting out corruption, reducing wasteful spending and improving the way in which it promotes basic human rights.

"I strongly believe that the best way to successfully achieve the improvements that are needed to work with our allies to constructively engage the U.N. on a reform agenda," said Rep. Howard L. Berman, the California Democrat who is ranking member on the committee. "Experience has shown that this strategy is much more effective than withholding our dues. Not only did previous attempts to force us into arrears at the U.N. fail to achieve the significant reforms that have taken place in the last few years, but they severely weakened our diplomatic standing."

Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen's legislative push is a reminder of the recent GOP takeover of the House, where Republican lawmakers now appear poised to call on President Obama to take a stiffer approach to the U.N. and to publicly air their long-standing doubts over the organization's ability to do its job.

She has said the plan would strengthen oversight and reform of U.N. agencies, including the International Atomic Energy Agency and the U.N. Development Program, while cutting funding for the Human Rights Council, which its critics say has shown an anti-Israel sentiment and includes countries that violate the rights they vow to protect.

"We should not give a penny until they disband that Human Rights Council, completely overhaul it and completely reform it," said Rep. Steven Chabot, Ohio Republican.

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.

As it stands, the U.S. is the largest single contributor to the world body, providing roughly 22 percent of its annual budget and 27 percent of the funding for its peacekeeping operations. In 2009, the government provided more than $6.3 billion in assessed dues, which help pay for peacekeeping missions, and voluntary contributions, which help pay for UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the World Food Program.

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