- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Obama administration on Wednesday stepped up its attack on moves in Congress to withhold or slash U.S. funding of the United Nations, saying such moves were “alarmist” and “backwards” and would seriously undermine America’s role as a world leader.

Republican-led efforts in Congress could force the U.S. to withhold half of its annual contribution to the world body. A senior State Department official said the administration’s engagement with the United Nations and promise to pay its dues had bolstered once-languishing U.S. influence at the world body that should not be squandered.

“We oppose the backwards calls we again are hearing to withhold U.S. dues, given the impact doing so would have on U.S. influence and leadership across the U.N. system,” said Esther Brimmer, the assistant secretary of state for international organizations affairs.

Ms. Brimmer did not specify the target of her criticism, but it was clearly directed at a bill introduced in the House last week by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, with 57 co-sponsors - all Republicans. The measure would block U.S. funds for any United Nations entity that supports giving Palestine an elevated status at the U.N., and ban U.S. contributions to the U.N. Human Rights Council and an anti-racism conference seen as a platform for anti-Israel rhetoric.

Ms. Ros-Lehtinen has long been an outspoken critic of the United Nations. Her legislation would also withhold a portion of U.S. dues to the international body if it does not change its funding system so that dues are paid on a voluntary rather than assessed basis.

Ms. Ros-Lehtinen’s office said she was traveling and not immediately able to comment.

Ms. Brimmer dismissed as “alarmist” concerns that the U.N. is working against U.S. interests. While she acknowledged that the world body needs reform, she maintained that could be better achieved with more and not less U.S. involvement. She said U.S. participation in numerous U.N. agencies had helped to reduce unfair criticism of Israel and gave powerful voice to efforts to condemn human rights abusers.

“We reject arguments made by some that would cede global leadership to those who would not act in our interest, or abandon the real, tangible gains that have come with enhanced U.S. multilateral engagement,” Ms. Brimmer told an audience at the U.S. Institute for Peace. “We reject also the alarmist suggestions that the U.N. is somehow running roughshod over U.S. interests.”

In the 2010 budget year, the U.S. provided $7.7 billion to the U.N. for its regular budget, peacekeeping and other programs, up from $6.1 billion the previous year. The Obama administration has tried to end the angry budget wars over U.N. dues that were common on Capitol Hill before Mr. Obama took office.

The State Department spoke out against the legislation after it was introduced, but Ms. Brimmer’s comments significantly raised the rhetoric of the opposition ahead of the annual U.N. General Assembly session set to begin in New York later this month.