Administration Seeks $4.1 Billion for Int’l Bodies, Including ‘Palestine’-Embracing UNESCO

By Patrick Goodenough | February 14, 2012 | 5:13am EST

The Obama administration has made deeper engagement with the United Nations a top foreign policy priority. Here Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the Security Council in New York on September 30, 2009, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sitting to her right. (U.N. Photo by Marco Castro)

( – The State Department budget request for fiscal year 2013 includes $4.1 billion for contributions to the United Nations and other international bodies. Among the intended recipients is the U.N’s cultural agency, which lost U.S. funding in FY2012 after it became the first U.N. agency to grant full membership to “Palestine.”

The budget request released Monday includes $79 million for the Paris-based U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

UNESCO’s funding was cut last November in line with U.S. legislation that denies funds to any U.N. body “which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states.”

Thomas Nides, the State Department’s deputy secretary for management and resources, told a briefing Monday that President Obama wanted waiver authority that would allow the U.S. to continue supporting UNESCO in the future.

“We have put the money in the budget, realizing that we’re not going to be able to spend the money unless we get the waiver – and we have made it clear to the Congress we’d like a waiver,” he said.

Nides added that UNESCO does “a lot of enormously good work, and we’d like to make sure that we have a contribution commensurate with their work.”

Senior Republicans warned the administration last fall not to look for ways around the law.

“Any effort to walk back U.S. law would send the damaging message that the U.S. will keep paying for U.N. bodies no matter what they do,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said at the time.

While the State Department’s budget request for contributions to the U.N. and other international organizations is $4.1 billion, total funding for the U.N. system would be higher, since the State Department is not the only conduit of funding.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) tracks overall U.S. contributions to the U.N. system. Its most recent report, released last June and covering FY2010, showed that the State Department was one of 17 government agencies that contributed to the U.N.

Although State accounted for the largest share of the total by far, agencies including the Departments of Agriculture, Labor and Health and Human Services also contributed to that year’s total expenditure for the U.N. – $7.69 billion.

Congressional Republican are pushing legislation that would make U.S. funding to the world body contingent on far-reaching reforms.

The U.N. Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act seeks a radical change in the way the U.N. is funded, allowing the U.S. and other member states to fund only those activities and agencies they regard as being well-run and in the national interest.

The U.S. pays 22 percent of the U.N.’s regular budget, and more than 25 percent of its peacekeeping budget.

In its FY2013 budget request, the State Department asked for $567.9 million for the U.N.’s regular budget, a small drop from the FY2012 figure of $568.7 million; and for $2.1 billion for peacekeeping, an increase of $270 million from FY2012.

Apart from those “assessed” dues, the U.S. gives considerably more in “voluntary contributions” to various U.N. agencies.

Among the larger requests for FY2013 are:  $125 million for the U.N. Children’s Fund (Unicef); $114.5 million for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); $111 million for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); $109.4 million for the World Health Organization (WHO); $88.3 million for the International Labor Organization (ILO); $78.9 million for UNESCO; $67.2 million for the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) and $39 million to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA).

“The Administration will advance the President’s vision of robust multilateral engagement as a crucial tool in advancing U.S. national interests, accomplished through our contributions to the

United Nations, peacekeeping operations and international organizations,” the White House said in an overview of the State budget request.

“Our contributions enable U.S. participation in over 40 international organizations that maintain peace and security, promote economic growth, and advance human rights around the world.”

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