In what could be the Trump administration’s final act of protest targeting the United Nations, the United States—joined by Israel—voted on Thursday against the intergovernmental organization’s $3.231 billion budget for 2021 based on alleged “anti-Israel bias” and global refusal to reimpose previously lifted sanctions on Iran.
Throughout President Donald Trump’s nearly four years in office, he and key members of his administration have repeatedly attacked “globalism” and various U.N. bodies, notably ditching the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2018 and the World Health Organization (WHO) earlier this year, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ambassador Richard Mills, the deputy at the U.S. mission to the U.N., explained the administration’s opposition to elements of the budget during a Wednesday meeting before Ambassador Kelly Craft—a GOP donor and former envoy to Canada whom Trump appointed after Nikki Haley left the post—delivered similar remarks Thursday.
“We object strongly to U.S. taxpayer dollars going to support a follow-up event to the Durban conference,” said Mills. The Durban Declaration and Program of Action, adopted at the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in South Africa, aimed to “combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance.”
As Reuters reported in 2009—when the Obama administration, under pressure from Israel, boycotted a U.N.-organized meeting dubbed Durban II—the U.S. and Israel “walked out of that 2001 conference when Arab states tried to define Zionism as racist.”
Craft charged that the new U.N. budget “extends a shameful legacy of hate, anti-Semitism, and anti-Israel bias.” She and Mills also pushed back against “those who continue to challenge the United States’ ability to trigger the re-imposition of sanctions on Iran,” citing the snapback mechanism in U.N. Security Council resolution 2231, which enshrined the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal.
Considering that Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal—officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—in 2018, Jamal Abdi of the National Iranian American Council said in September that the administration’s snapback claims “are a farce that defy the international community and a basic comprehension of facts.”
Alongside her critical comments Thursday, Craft said that “as a firm believer in the United Nations, the United States is, and has always been, the largest and most reliable partner of the United Nations,” and claimed “that commitment will not change as a result of my vote,” noting the U.S. contributions to U.N. peacekeeping expenditures and humanitarian operations.
As Bloomberg reported ahead of the final vote Thursday:
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 U.N. 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.
On Tuesday, Volkan Bozkir, a Turkish diplomat and president of 75th U.N. General Assembly, expressed “concern and disappointment” that the budget hadn’t been adopted, warning that “we are facing an unprecedented situation” and “if member states fail to reach an agreement, the consequences on the work of the United Nations will be dire.”
Ahead of the budget vote Thursday, Bozkir referenced his earlier statement and said he was “pleased that the remaining differences were solved.” He highlighted the “vital role” that the U.N. has played in addressing the Covid-19 pandemic and said that continuing to do so “requires a strong budget and the allocation of important resources.”
Noting that U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres “has expressed concern about the financial situation of the United Nations on several occasions, and this has been echoed throughout the main session,” Bozkir also declared that “the fact is, we cannot create the ‘future we want’ without ‘the U.N. we need.'”
“It is the collective responsibility of the membership to provide the United Nations with the adequate funding, to enable the organization to fulfill the activities mandated by member states,” he added. “To this end, I once again call on all member states to fulfil their commitments and obligations in line with the budget and the scale of assessment.”
Our work in #UNGA reminds us of the great responsibility placed upon us by the people we serve. It is our solemn duty to engage in constructive dialogue in the pursuit of the noble goals of the @UN: the universal achievement of peace, human rights and sustainable development. pic.twitter.com/S14WiK7RYk
— UN GA President (@UN_PGA) December 31, 2020
Bloomberg pointed out Thursday that this year “marks only the second time the U.S. decided to move against the consensus approval of the U.N. 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 move comes as Trump is on his way out the door, having lost the November election. The New York Times reported earlier this month that “after four years of disparagement and disengagement by the Trump administration, the United Nations is infused with expectations that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will restore much of what his predecessor dismantled.”
The former vice president has vowed to rejoin the Paris climate agreement, Iran nuclear deal, and WHO as well as “pledged to restore the funding that Mr. Trump ended to the United Nations Population Fund, a leading provider of family planning and women’s reproductive services, a cut that was part of a conservative-led policy to penalize groups that offer abortion counseling.”
However, the Times added:
Mr. Biden’s goals remain unclear concerning some other United Nations agencies and agreements renounced during the Trump years—the Human Rights Council, UNESCO, the Palestinian refugee agency, and accords on global migration and arms trade. Mr. Biden also has not specified how he intends to deal with the International Criminal Court, created through U.N. diplomacy two decades ago to prosecute egregious crimes like genocide.
The United States is not a member of the court, but cooperated with it until the Trump administration sanctioned its chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, and other court officials for efforts to investigate possible American crimes in the Afghanistan war and possible crimes by Israelis in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Though a pair of January 5 runoff elections in Georgia will determine party control of the U.S. Senate—which will be charged with confirming Biden’s Cabinet members—Biden has already announced his pick for his administration’s ambassador to the United Nations: veteran diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield.