- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2011

DUES ATTENTION

The chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee this week struck back at critics of a bill she introduced to make U.S. contributions to the United Nations voluntary.

“We expect the U.N.’s apologists and lobbyists to strongly oppose our bill,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said. “They strongly oppose anything that would actually demand anything from the U.N.

The Florida Republican insisted that she is trying to reform the United Nations, not destroy it. She said her bill would allow the United States to support programs that promote democracy and human rights, and to withhold money to commissions and agencies that oppose U.S. interests.

“There’s been a lot of misinformation about this bill, and we’d like to set the record straight about what this bill does and what it doesn’t do,” she said at a Capitol Hill news conference.

She was joined by nine other House Republicans who have co-sponsored the United Nations Transparency and Accountability Reform Act.

Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen also denounced the “dangerous scheme” of the Palestinian Authority, which is lobbying the U.N. General Assembly to recognize a state of Palestine without first negotiating borders with Israel.

Since she introduced her bill last week, Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen has been attacked by U.N. supporters. The State Department said that the U.S. would lose influence at the United Nations if it refuses to pay its assessed dues, which cover about 22 percent of U.N. regular operations. Washington spent $7.7 billion in U.N. dues last year, Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the Obama administration opposes the bill and warned it would “dangerously weaken the U.N.

Rep. Howard L. Berman of California, the senior Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said the bill could end up hurting Israel because the measure would lessen U.S. influence at the U.N.

“At a time when efforts to isolate and delegitimize Israel in the General Assembly and elsewhere are gaining steam, I can’t see how a bill that will undoubtedly weaken our influence at the U.N. and make it harder to counter Palestinian attempts to unilaterally declare statehood is in Jerusalem’s interest, let alone our own,” he said.

Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen, however, cited several examples in the past when a U.S. threat to withhold dues forced the United Nations to make reforms.

In 1999 as a Democratic senator from Delaware, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. co-sponsored a bill with Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, to require a series of U.N. reforms as a condition for the payment of U.S. dues.

In the 1980s, a Democrat-controlled House and a Republican-controlled Senate threatened to withhold dues over another reform issue.

The same type of threat worked again in 1989 to stop an earlier Palestinian attempt to achieve U.N. statehood recognition, Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said.

She also noted that some U.N. agencies already are operating under voluntary dues paid by U.N. member nations, citing UNICEF, the U.N. Refugee Agency and the World Food Program.

She said her bill would demand that the United Nations make fundamental reforms in many programs and remove nations that routinely violate human rights from U.N. commissions created to promote them.

“Wegot a U.N. that is increasingly nontransparent, unaccountable, ineffective, biased against the U.S., Israel and other free democracies,” Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said.

Another sponsor of the bill, Republican Allen B. West of Florida, said the United Nations was born with “great promise” after World War II.

“It is now just a den where the voices that are most heard are those of despots, dictators and autocrats,” he said. “We must change that.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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