The Cable

Ros-Lehtinen: I'm not trying to bash the United Nations

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), during her press conference to push her U.N. reform bill, pledged that she is not trying to "bash" the United Nations by calling for withholding U.S. funds from the organization.

"This bill is about reforming the U.N.; it's not about bashing the U.N.; it's not about taking the U.S. out of the U.N.," Ros-Lehtinen said at the Tuesday morning press conference as she stood in front of poster-sized photos of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon shaking hands with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and posters of deposed Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi at the U.N. speaker's podium.

"Some call our bill backwards, but I don't think it's backwards to demand transparency, accountability, and reform. But I do think the adjective 'backwards' too often applies to what we're paying for at the U.N.," she said.

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 receive 80 percent of its funding 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 U.S. contributions to the United Nations.

A summary of the legislation prepared by Ros-Lehtinen's staff says that the bill, "[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 UN agency or program that upgrades the status of the PLO/Palestinian observer mission."

"The U.N. General Assembly has one permanent agenda item every year, and it is to condemn Israel," Ros-Lehtinen said.

She also responded to her ranking member Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who told The Cable that Ros-Lehtinen's bill 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.

"Most of what we're doing in the House has very little chance of becoming law, no matter what it is. Does that mean we should stop doing things? Whether the Senate is going to pass it does not mean that we should not propose a bill that will put a marker down," she said.

"I hope it becomes a bipartisan bill -- I would like that. And I hope the administration would join us. I am in the business of hope."

She also said Barack Obama's administration is doing a poor job of managing the Palestinian drive to seek member-state status at the United Nations later this month.

"It speaks to the lack of leadership of the Obama administration that, all these months, there has been a leadership vacuum at the White House," Ros-Lehtinen said, adding that even an elevated observer status for the Palestinians at the United Nations would be unwise.

"That should not be the consolation prize, which is what more or less it has become," she said.

Ros-Lehtinen was joined by 10 other GOP lawmakers, all of whom gave statements expressing criticism of the United Nations, but none of whom stuck around to field questions from the assembled reporters in the room.

Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), a freshman member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), criticized U.N. support for China's "one child left behind" policy, apparently mixing China's one-child policy and America's "No Child Left Behind" education policy.

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), chair of HFAC's Middle East subcommittee declared, "If there's any organization that's in greater need of reform than the U.N., I don't know what it would be … except perhaps the United States Congress."

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice addressed Ros-Lehtinen's bill this week, saying, "Legislation that would withhold funding for the United Nations is fundamentally flawed in concept and practice, sets us back, is self-defeating, and doesn't work."


The Cable

Cornyn tries to force Taiwan F-16 sales

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced a bill on Monday that would pressure the Obama administration to sell new F-16 fighters to Taiwan, weeks ahead of the administration's plan to announce a decision on the sale.

The bill expresses the sense of the Senate that because Taiwan needs the new fighters for its self-defense, the United States is required to sell them due to commitments made in the Taiwan Relations Act. It also expresses the view that the fighter sale would boost the U.S. economy by extending thousands of jobs related to F-16 production, a majority of which just happen to be found in Cornyn's home state of Texas.

"The president shall carry out the sale of no fewer than 66 F16 C/D multirole fighter aircraft to Taiwan," the bill specifies.

The path ahead for Cornyn's bill is unclear. He could try to add it to the fiscal 2012 defense authorization or push for a floor vote on the bill itself. By itself, the bill has no chance of being signed by President Obama. As part of the defense authorization bill, which is considered a "must pass" bill, it could be veto bait.

Foreign military sales are the responsibility of the executive branch, but Cornyn's office believes that Congress has the Constitutional and legal authority to compel a foreign military sale. There is no precedent; to date, Congress has never authorized a military sale that wasn't submitted to them by the president. 

Taiwan has been asking the administration for permission to buy the new fighters, but reports suggest that the administration is planning to deny that request and offer Taiwan upgrades to their existing fleet of older F16 A/B models instead.

"This sale is a win-win, in strengthening the national security of our friend Taiwan as well as our own, and supporting tens of thousands of jobs in the U.S.," Cornyn said in a statement. "Saying no here would mean granting Communist China substantial sway over American foreign policy, putting us on a very slippery slope."

"Providing the military resources Taiwan needs is in the vital security interest of Taiwan, the national security interest of the United States, and is compelled by the Taiwan Relations Act," Sen. Robert Menendez (R-NJ) said in a statement. "Taiwanese pilots flying Taiwanese fighter aircraft manufactured in the United States represent the best first line of defense for our democratic ally, and delaying the decision to sell F-16s to Taiwan could result in the closure of the F-16 production line, which would cost New Jersey 750 manufacturing jobs."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised Cornyn that the administration would announce its decision on Taiwan arms sales by Oct. 1. That agreement was part of a deal reached between Clinton and Cornyn to move forward with the confirmation of Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns.

When the Obama administration moved forward with $6.4 billion worth of arms sales to Taiwan in January 2010, the Chinese reacted by cutting off U.S.-China military to military cooperation for more than a year.

On August 1, 181 House members sent a letter to President Obama calling on him to approve the sale of F-16 C/Ds to Taiwan.  A May 26 letter to Obama calling on him to quickly notify Congress of the sale of 66 F-16 C/Ds to Taiwan was signed by 45 Senators.