The Cable

Berman: Ros-Lehtinen's bill to 'eviscerate' U.N. is 'radical'

In an interview on Wednesday, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) told The Cable that House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's proposal to drastically reform the United Nations and cut U.S. contributions to the organization was ill-advised and probably dead on arrival.

"I cannot see this legislation becoming law. I think there are some radical proposals here," he said. "I understand the frustration with a number of the U.N.'s actions and I share her frustration and anger at many of them. But the U.N. does tremendous amounts of good work. If you wipe out the funding base of the U.N., as her proposal does, you will still get the bad stuff but you will eviscerate the good things they are doing."

Ros-Lehtinen's 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 States 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.

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. Berman called the debate over that bill a "series of tantrums."

Esther Brimmer, assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, defended U.S. spending at the U.N. on Wednesday in a speech at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

"In short, U.S. engagement with the U.N. has never been more critical or more beneficial to our nation. We cannot turn back the clock to a time when the world was simpler and less interconnected, and multilateral engagement was less essential to core U.S. interests," she said.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Foundation, an NGO that advocates on behalf of the United Nations, has created an entire initiative to fight Ros-Lehtinen's proposal.

"Last week, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen introduced anti-UN legislation (H.R. 2829) in Congress that would threaten vital funding to the UN and forfeit American leadership at the United Nations. In response to such a drastic measure, the Better World Campaign announced today the launch of Let U.S. Lead (www.LetUSLead.org) in opposition to H.R. 2829," reads a U.N. Foundation press release issued on Thursday.

The Better World Campaign is a project of the Better World Fund, which is affiliated with the U.N. Foundation. Both the fund and the foundation are supported by former CNN head and philanthropist Ted Turner.

"The U.N. is playing a greater role in promoting American interests than ever before and we strongly oppose H.R. 2829, which threatens America's leadership role at the United Nations and undermines our national security," said Peter Yeo, executive director of the Better World Campaign and vice president for public policy at the U.N. Foundation.

The campaign is an effort to educate the public and encourage opposition to Ros-Lehtinen's bill. It includes a petition against the bill and provides information on the issues raised in the legislation.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Cable

Obama administration confirms it would veto Palestinian statehood at the U.N.

The State Department confirmed today that, if the Palestinian drive for full recognition at the United Nations reaches the Security Council, the United States will veto it.

The clear statement on U.S. plans for a potential Security Council showdown comes one day after President Barack Obama's nominee for undersecretary of state, Wendy Sherman, got out ahead of the administration and told a Senate committee that the United States was planning to use its veto power.

"The United States is very resolved to a veto threat in the Security Council. What we are very resolved about as well is urging the parties to enter into direct negotiations again," Sherman testified, in remarks first reported by The Cable.

The State Department press corps pressed spokeswoman Victoria Nuland about Sherman's remarks at Thursday's briefing.

"We've seen the press furor around this. Frankly, it was surprising to us. It should not come as a shock to anyone in this room that the U.S. opposes a move in New York by the Palestinians to try to establish a state that can only be achieved through negotiations," said Nuland. "So, yes, if something comes to a vote in the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. will veto."

Nuland also sought to clarify Sherman's comment that the administration does not expect the issue to reach the Security Council in the first place.

"I would imagine that what our nominee was referring to is the fact that our diplomacy continues to make the case to the parties that the best route forward is to come back to the negotiating table and not to pursue action in New York," Nuland said.

Maen Rashid Areikat, the PLO representative to the United States and head of the PLO mission in Washington, refuted suggestions that the Palestinian leadership was thinking of backing down on taking their bid for international recognition. He told The Cable this week that the U.N. Security Council is the most likely venue for a vote on the Palestinian statehood question.

"We hope the United States will reconsider its position and not use its veto power against the Palestinian move at the United Nations," he said. "What happens after a veto? There are so many other options."

One of those options is to seek non-member recognition through the U.N. General Assembly, which would not be subject to a U.S. veto, Areikat said.

Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, told The Cable last week that if the Palestinians move forward with their statehood drive, bilateral agreements between the Israelis and the Palestinians could be at risk. The State Department has asked the Israelis not to scuttle those agreements.

Nuland warned that the vote could have negative consequences. "There could be tensions on the ground. There are certainly going to be tensions in New York, which we want to avoid," she said.