US Republican lawmakers taking aim at UN

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By Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Newly empowered Republican lawmakers are taking their first shots at the United Nations, depicting it as bloated and ineffective as they seek to cut U.S. funding for the world body.

On Tuesday, a House of Representatives panel aired criticisms of the U.N. at a briefing expected to prescribe congressional action.

Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs committee, is seeking cuts and has introduced a bill intended to pressure the United Nations to change the way it operates and to make dues voluntary. She also is promising investigations into possible corruption and mismanagement.

"U.S. policy on the United Nations should be based on three fundamental questions: Are we advancing American interests? Are we upholding American values? Are we being responsible stewards of American taxpayer dollars?" she said in a statement that was read at the briefing, which she could not attend. "Unfortunately, right now, the answer to all three questions is 'No.' "

U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe said that U.S. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would work with U.S. lawmakers.

"The United Nations has always worked constructively with the United States, and we share the same goals: for a stronger United Nations, one that is efficient, effective and accountable," she said.

Congress at various times has withheld funding from the world organization, but last year, under Democratic leadership in both the House and the Senate, the United States paid its dues in full as well as some back dues.

The United States is the largest single contributor to the U.N. responsible for 22 percent of its regular budget and 27 percent of the funding for its peacekeeping operations.

Tuesday's briefing comes as Republicans are pressing for broad spending cuts as they seek to reduce the U.S. budget deficit. Where those cuts should be made will be a major issue as President Barack Obama appears before Congress several hours later to deliver his annual State of the Union policy address.

The United Nations has long been a target for conservative U.S. lawmakers. Investigations by Republican-led congressional panels in the last decade helped spur an independent investigation into the U.N.-run oil-for-food program in Iraq.

Peter Yeo, executive director of the Better World Campaign, which advocates U.S. support for the United Nations, said he expected Tuesday's briefing would mark the "beginning of a long examination" by congressional Republicans. But Yeo, who appeared before the panel, said he hoped to convince lawmakers that the United Nations is a good bargain for the United States.

"The U.N. serves our interest in a cost-effective way to promote global security," he said.

He also pointed to U.N. changes already carried out, including creation of an ethics office in 2006.

Rep. Howard Berman, the ranking Democrat on the committee, also defended the world body. While offering a long list of criticisms, he outlined a list of ways that the United Nations operations serves U.S. interests and noted the recent reforms.

It is unclear whether the Republican critiques will lead to cuts in the U.S. contribution. Ros-Lehtinen's bill probably would face resistance in the Democratic-controlled Senate and from the Obama administration.

U.N. dues must be financed through annual congressionally approved spending plans and are thus subject to approval by both the House and Senate.