Meeting in Vienna, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) last week named Iran to succeed Austria as chairman of its Program and Budget Committee. The step was taken “by acclamation,” meaning no member-state objected or called for a vote.
The post will be held by Ali-Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s representative to international organizations based in Vienna. Those organizations include with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which for years has been tracking and reporting on Iran’s controversial nuclear program.
The UNIDO move, unlikely to please Western governments wanting to isolate Iran over its nuclear activities, comes at a time when UNIDO is grappling with the consequences of some key funders’ decisions to withdraw from the organization.
Britain exited at the end of 2012 and France announced last month it would follow suit. The two countries were major donors to UNIDO, each contributing more than nine percent of its operating budget.
Also on the way out are smaller contributors, including the Netherlands and New Zealand.
The latest departures leave Japan, Germany, China and Italy as the biggest remaining funders, accounting respectively for 17.6, 11.6, 8.4 and 7.2 percent of the operating budget.
(The United States, Canada and Australia all left UNIDO during the 1990s. At the time, the U.S. alone was responsible for 25 percent of the budget. UNIDO says the U.S. still owes arrears of 69.06 million euros, about $89 million at the current exchange rate.)
Over the years, the reasons cited by nations leaving UNIDO have included criticism of the effectiveness of an agency whose declared function is to promote “industrial development for poverty reduction, inclusive globalization and environmental sustainability.”
The U.S. said in a 1996 document the agency had “not been able to define its purpose and function very well, much less become effective in its programmatic activities,” while a British review in 2011 said it “could not find any evidence of UNIDO having a significant impact on global poverty.”
According to Western diplomatic sources in Vienna, UNIDO’s relationship with Iran has also been cause for growing concern. Attempts to get on-the-record comment on the issue from Western missions there have been unsuccessful.
Last November the advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) launched a campaign calling on UNIDO to stop funding projects in support of the Iranian regime, and urging donor states to withhold their contributions until the agency did so.
UANI pointed out that Iranian entities benefiting from UNIDO projects include the Industrial Development and Renovation Organization of Iran (IDRO), which the Treasury Department has determined is controlled by the regime, and is subject to U.S., Canadian and European Union sanctions.
In a letter to UNIDO director-general Kandeh Yumkella, UANI told him it was encouraging nations to withhold their funding to UNIDO until it “ceases its partnership and cooperation with sanctioned Iranian regime entities.”
At the time a UNIDO spokesman would not comment on the IDRO allegation, but told CNSNews.com the agency cooperated with Iran in several areas including “poverty reduction through productive activities, developing a green industry and implementing international environmental agreements.”
‘More relevant than ever’
At last week’s session in Vienna, the UNIDO committee approved a 2014-15 budget of 176.5 million euros ($227.7 million)
Yumkella reported to the committee that the program and budget for the 2014-15 period had had to be adjusted as a result of certain member-states’ departures, a step he called “regrettable but unavoidable.”
He outlined some cost-cutting measures, saying 20 posts would be abolished; UNIDO would reduce its use of space in the U.N. headquarters building in Vienna by two floors; and travel expenses and “funds for general temporary assistance” would be scaled back.
Yumkella took issue with those who questioned UNIDO’s relevance, calling on critics to “forget ideology and focus on the reality of the world,” and arguing that its mandate was “more relevant than ever.”
“UNIDO is a unique agency that bridges the developmental and humanitarian objectives of the United Nations,” he said.
Yumkella, from Sierra Leone, is leaving his UNIDO post next month, taking up the role of U.N. “special representative for sustainable energy for all.”
Candidates to replace him at UNIDO’s helm include hopefuls from Afghanistan, Cambodia, China, Italy, Libya, Poland and Thailand.
UANI was founded by Mark Wallace, U.S. representative for U.N. management and reform in the Bush administration, former CIA Director James Woolsey, former U.S. Mideast negotiator Dennis Ross, and the late ambassador Richard Holbrooke.