Ros-Lehtinen says UN reform bill about reform, not UN-bashing

Ros-Lehtinen's bill, H.R. 2829, would cut off U.S. funding for the U.N. unless it ensures at least 80 percent of its programs are funded through voluntary contributions. It would also set policy in several areas — for example, it would direct the U.S. to oppose Palestinian efforts to win statehood without negotiating directly with Israel first, and prevent U.S. participation in the U.N. Human Rights Council until that entity is reformed.

Ros-Lehtinen said these changes are needed because the U.S. spent $7.7 billion in U.N. dues last year, and got less than satisfactory results.

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"What did U.S. taxpayers get in return for all of that money?" she asked. "We got a U.N. that is increasingly non-transparent, unaccountable, ineffective, biased against the U.S., Israel, and other free democracies."

As further examples, she noted that China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia have controlled the Human Rights Council, which also added Libya as a member. "It's backwards for Gadhafi's Libya to have been 'elected' to that Council last year without a word of public opposition by the U.S.," she said.

Despite her defense of the bill, the Obama administration and others have said U.N. bashing is precisely what Ros-Lehtinen's bill would do. A State Department official with knowledge of the legislation told The Hill this week that State believes the bill fails to consider the successes the U.S. has had in the U.N., and would make future successes harder to come by.

"This proposal is all politics and no policy," the official said. "Not only does it threaten to undercut U.S. influence at an institution critical to the interests of Israel, it also makes no allowance for the significant and sustained success the administration has demonstrated across the U.N. system, from strengthened sanctions on the Iranian regime to assertive international action on Libya, and much more."

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said this week that the bill is "fundamentally flawed in concept and practice, sets us back, is self-defeating, and doesn't work." She said it would undercut U.S. influence over the U.N., and said reforms are best done in the context of being a member that does not threaten to withhold its dues.

The Better World Campaign, a group working to improve the relationship between the U.S. and U.N., agreed with the administration that by threatening U.S. funding, the bill threatens the standing of the U.S. in New York.

"We strongly oppose this legislation introduced by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen that would severely erode America’s leadership role at the United Nations and undermine our nation’s security," said Peter Yeo, Better World Campaign executive director and former staffer for Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), now the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

But Ros-Lehtinen on Tuesday said threatening to withhold funding is the best way to create an incentive for reform at the U.N. She cited the Bush administration's late 1980s threat to withhold money as a way of ensuring the U.N. did not grant statehood to the Palestine Liberation Organization.

"The PLO's scheme was stopped dead in its tracks," she said. "Once again, smart withholding worked, and that’s why our bill uses the same funding conditions that worked two decades ago."

Ros-Lehtinen is expected to mark up her bill in committee as early as next week.

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