The Trump administration is making what may be its final stand against the status quo at the United Nations, preparing to vote against the world body’s annual budget over disagreements on a conference that it considers anti-Israel and over Iran sanctions.
The U.S. decision on the $3.2 billion budget for 2021 was announced late Wednesday at a budget committee meeting. A vote officially approving the budget and other amendments will be held in the UN General Assembly on Thursday, when U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft, a top Republican campaign donor, is expected to speak.
The budget is traditionally approved by consensus. Over the past three years, the U.S. supported the annual funding even as President Donald Trump complained that other nations weren’t contributing enough and his administration withdrew from UN bodies it considered anti-American or anti-Israel.
Diplomats said the budget negotiations became more politically charged than usual this year as the clock ticked down and negotiations failed to produce a consensus as Trump enters his final weeks in office.
The U.S. and Israel were the only no votes in the budget committee Wednesday night as 151 other nations voted yes.
Under Trump, the U.S. has repeatedly clashed with the UN and its organizations, announcing a departure from the World Health Organization and angering Security Council members with its effort to kill what remains of the multinational Iran nuclear accord. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to reverse the go-it-alone approach by returning to the WHO and the Paris climate accord and seeking to repair the Iran deal.
The U.S is objecting in particular to funding allocated for a follow-up event to the Durban Conference — a 2001 anti-racism conference held in South Africa that was harshly critical of Israel — as well as the lack of support for a U.S. effort to re-establish a team of experts within the UN to monitor sanctions on Iran, which the U.S.claims have been snapped back into place despite UN disagreement.
“The United States regrets that the membership of this committee made the decision to retain funding in the budget counter to the principles of the UN Charter and against the sincere requests of the most generous UN donor,” Ambassador Richard Mills, the deputy at the US mission, said in a statement on the budget committee’s action. He called the Durban conference “as poisonous as ever.”
The vote marks only the second time the U.S. decided to move against the consensus approval of the UN budget by calling for a vote. In 2007, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad voted against the budget in a 142-1 tally, also due to objections over funding for a follow-up to the Durban conference.
The U.S. and Israel walked out of the 2001 conference in Durban because of attacks on Israel, including a draft document that sought to equate Zionism with racism.
Volcano Bozkir of Turkey, the current president of the UN General Assembly, said in a tweet on Tuesday that he was “concerned and disappointed” that the budget hadn’t yet been approved.
The UN “has a responsibility to address the pressing challenges we are facing because of the pandemic,” he wrote. “If Member States fail to reach agreement, the consequences for UN work will be dire.”
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