Monday, 17 October 2011

Clinton: Obama should veto U.N. bill


Hillary Clinton speaks at a press conference. | AP Photo
Hillary Clinton issued a strong warning about the bill to the Foreign Affairs Committee. | AP PhotoClose

Raising the specter of terrorism, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned congressional leaders on Wednesday that she would recommend a veto of Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s bill redefining America’s relationship with the United Nations.

The controversial bill, due for a markup in Ros-Lehtinen’s committee on Thursday, would condition U.S. funding of the U.N. on conversion from an assessment-based dues system to one that operates on voluntary contributions from member nations.

“Withholding U.S. contributions and shifting to voluntary funding erode the concrete dividends of our leadership and undermine ongoing reform efforts at the United Nations,” Clinton wrote in letters — obtained by POLITICO — to Ros-Lehtinen and California Rep. Howard Berman, who is the top Democrat on the Committee.

It’s unlikely the bill would make it to President Barack Obama’s desk, but Clinton’s warning to the Foreign Affairs Committee was still strong.

“If implemented, the bill’s requirement to withhold 50 percent of U.S. assessed contributions to the United Nations absent a shift to voluntary-only funding would undercut international collaboration in advancing core U.S. national security interests such as staunching nuclear proliferation, combating terrorism, fully implementing sanctions on countries such as Iran and North Korea, preventing conflict around the globe, supporting elections in countries just undergoing transition to democracy, fighting pandemic disease, providing life-saving humanitarian relief to countries such as Haiti, and supporting peaceful transitions in places such as the new nation of South Sudan,” she wrote. “Through international cooperation, the United States reaps real security benefits that make Americans safer and more secure.”

That list hits several areas close to the hearts of various groups of Republicans, including pro-Israel lawmakers who take a hard line against Iran and religious conservatives who support international humanitarian missions.

At a time when U.S. dollars are scarce, many Republicans have become increasingly critical of American funding of an international body that is often at odds with U.S. interests. The issue has taken on a partisan tinge in Congress, and, despite several months of efforts, Ros-Lehtinen has been unable to find a Democratic cosponsor.

In an interview on Tuesday, Ros-Lehtinen acknowledged that the Senate is unlikely to act on the bill and that the president would not sign it. Still, she said, it’s important to send a message to the U.N. that it must change its ways, and she has asked GOP leaders to schedule the bill for a floor vote.

“That’s our request, and my leadership knows that’s the request,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “I’m persistent.”

GOP leaders have stopped short of making a commitment to put the bill on the floor.

“Leadership is continuing to work closely with Chairman Ros-Lehtinen regarding her U.N. reform bill and timing for floor consideration,” said Laena Fallon, spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.)

One factor that may hurt Ros-Lehtinen’s effort: Despite several provisions aimed at punishing the U.N. for its treatment of Israel, pro-Israel groups have stayed on the sidelines. The most prominent of those organizations, AIPAC, typically supports only legislation that has at least some backing in both parties.

Still, a handful of groups, including the Zionist Organization of America and the Republican Jewish Coalition, issued an action alert asking members to contact lawmakers in favor of the Ros-Lehtinen bill..

The bill would block U.S. funding of any United Nations entity that upgrades the status of the Palestinians before the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved, ban contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees until U.N. policies are changed, and both prohibit the U.S. from sitting on the Human Rights Council and withhold a portion of U.S. funds based on the HRC budget until a series of criteria — including the termination of a permanent investigation into Israel’s human rights record — are met.

It’s possible that Israel could face an international backlash from U.S. action to punish the U.N. as part of a bill that includes many provisions specific to Israel.

Though Ros-Lehtinen is one of Israel’s biggest supporters in Congress, she said she would move forward without the political force of the pro-Israel community.

“I’m not a member of the Knesset,” she said of the Israeli legislature.

In addition to State Department opposition to the bill, Clinton wrote in her letter that the Justice Department would also make clear its concerns in a future communication to the committee.

Calling the U.N. “indispensable” to advancing the goals of the U.S., Clinton wrote that “should this bill be presented to the president, I will recommend that he veto it.”

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