The Cable

Ros-Lehtinen introduces U.N.-bashing bill ahead of Palestinian statehood vote

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) introduced a bill today that would effectively slash U.S. contributions to the United Nations and punish any U.N. organization that goes along with the U.N. vote on Palestinian statehood next month.

The Cable has the bill text and a summary of the legislation prepared by Ros-Lehtinen's staff. The summary says the legislation, "[o]pposes efforts by the Palestinian leadership to evade a negotiated settlement with Israel" by seeking recognition at the United Nations and "[w]ithholds U.S. contributions from any U.N. agency or program that upgrades the status of the PLO/Palestinian observer mission."

"The Palestinian leadership's current scheme to attain recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN without even recognizing Israel's right to exist has been tried before, and it was stopped only when the U.S. made clear that it wouldn't fund any UN entity that went along with it," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "My bill similarly seeks to stop this dangerous scheme in its tracks."

Ros-Lehtinen spokesman Brad Goehner told The Cable today that the expected Palestinian statehood drive at the U.N. General Assembly next month was a major factor in the timing of the bill's introduction.

"Chairman Ros-Lehtinen felt it was important to introduce the bill, which includes a title withholding U.S. funding to U.N. entities which upgrade the status of the Palestinian mission, in advance of the Palestinian Authority's statehood push at the U.N.," Goehner said.

The bill would also withhold funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which aids Palestinian refugees, call for the United States to lead a high-level U.N. effort for "the revocation and repudiation" of the Goldstone Report, and pull the United States out of the U.N. Human Rights Council, which commissioned the Goldstone Report and has historically been critical of Israel.

More broadly, the bill would shift U.S. contributions to the United Nations to a "voluntary basis," rather than have them follow the compulsory assessed fees system that is in place now. If the United Nations doesn't get 80 percent of its money from voluntary contributions, the bill would then require the United State to cut its contribution by 50 percent.

The bill would also halt new U.S. contributions to U.N. peacekeeping missions until reforms are implemented, and institute a new regime of reporting requirements and auditing powers for examining U.S. contributions to the United Nations.

Bloomberg was the first news outlet to report on the bill this morning. Interestingly, Bloomberg editors also published an editorial this morning that was supportive of the United Nations, arguing that a "strong relationship between the U.S. and UN is in the interests of both."

The United Nations has been a target of Ros-Lehtinen and the GOP House leadership since they took power early this year. In Ros-Lehtinen's State Department authorization bill, which was debated last month, her committee voted to cut off foreign assistance to any country that did not support U.S. positions at the United Nations. Her Democratic counterpart Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) called the debate over that bill a "series of tantrums."

Peter Yeo, vice president for public policy at the U.N. Foundation, told The Cable today that not only was Ros-Lehtinen's bill unwise and would undermine the U.S. position at the United Nations, but also that it has no chance of ever becoming law.

"It's an extremist bill, and as a result of that is has little chance of getting broad bipartisan support," he said. "[Senate Foreign Relations Committee heads] John Kerry and Richard Lugar have been strong supporters of a sound relationship between the U.S. and the U.N., and we'll continue to have strong Senate and executive branch opposition to this initiative."

Moreover, the ideas Ros-Lehtinen puts forth, such as a system of voluntary contributions, are not shared by other U.N. member states so are unlikely to gain traction, he said.

"There's no consensus for this in New York, so it's not going to happen," said Yeo. "America can't lead if we don't pay our dues." "

A Democratic congressional staffer told The Cable today the bill is destined to die after House passage.

"[Former committee Chairman] Henry Hyde was only able to secure House passage of this bill, and that was with a Republican-controlled House, Senate, and White House. I can't imagine Ros-Lehtinen is thinking her legislation is anything more than a one House bill," the staffer said. "The bill is simply a mechanism to cut off funding for the U.N.; it's as simple as that.… It would make Jesse Helms blush."

UPDATE: Berman issued this statement late Tuesday afternoon: 

"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 UN and make it harder to counter Palestinian attempts to unilaterally declare statehood is in Jerusalem's interest let alone our own."


The Cable

Justice Department: We are still investigating the Lockerbie bombing

The new Libyan government won't hand over the man convicted for planning the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, but the Justice Department plans to keep hunting down the perpetrators, with or without him.

Senior lawmakers and GOP presidential candidates said last week that the top priority of the new Libyan government should be the rearrest and extradition of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who was sentenced in Scotland for the bombing, but then released in 2009 on compassionate grounds because he was supposedly dying of cancer.

CNN's Nic Robertson actually found Megrahi and visited him in his Tripoli home yesterday, where he appeared to be comatose and near death. But Mohammed al-Alagi, the justice minister in Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC), said yesterday that the senators' request had "no meaning" and that the NTC had no intention of extraditing Megrahi to the United States or anywhere else.

"We will not hand over any Libyan citizen. It was Qaddafi who handed over Libyan citizens," Alagi said. He also criticized Qaddafi for handing over Megrahi to the Scots in the first place.

Pressed on the issue at today's briefing, State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland would only say that the Obama administration was in touch with the NTC on the issue and that White House officials didn't think the NTC had made any final decisions on what to do about Megrahi.

"We need to let them get their feet under themselves as a governing authority, and then they have agreed that they will look at this … and I don't think we're there yet," she said, adding that the Justice Department had the lead on the issue.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd told The Cable that even if Megrahi is not rearrested or if he dies, the DOJ will continue to hunt down the remaining culprits of the attack.

"We remain firmly committed to bringing to justice everyone who may have been involved in the Pan Am 103 bombing," he said. "The Justice Department investigation into the Pan Am 103 bombing that was initiated on December 21, 1988, remains open and active."

He declined to comment on what exactly DOJ is doing in the Lockerbie investigation, nor did he give any reaction to the NTC's comments on the issue.

There's no consensus on what to do with Megrahi, even among those in Washington calling for his rearrest. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) wants him brought to the United States. Mitt Romney suggested that he be brought to the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

In an interview with The Cable, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said he thinks Megrahi should be brought before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. "There were a lot of people besides Americans who were killed in that bombing," he said.

"I think this guy should see justice, but I also understand that the Libyans want to handle it themselves," McCain said. "Let's see how they handle it. As long as we can ensure justice was done, I think the families of the victims would be OK with that."

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) doesn't believe that Megrahi is near death, and he is angry at the NTC for refusing to hand him over.

"This wouldn't be the first time that Libyan officials claimed al-Megrahi was on his deathbed. We're going to need a lot more verification than the word of local Libyan officials," Schumer said. "There is no justifiable basis for the rebels' decision to shield this convicted terrorist."