UN gears up for talks on US threat to cut funding

US Vice President Mike Pence (right) swears in Nikki Haley as US ambassador to the United Nations during a ceremony in Washington DC, on January 25, 2017 (AFP Photo/NICHOLAS KAMM) (AFP)
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United Nations (United States) (AFP) - The United Nations on Thursday said it was eager for talks with the new US administration following reports that President Donald Trump was considering draconian funding cuts to the world body.

Ambassador Nikki Haley will present her diplomatic credentials to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday and the pair will hold their first face-to-face meeting at UN headquarters.

Haley's term as new US envoy begins as US media reported that a draft executive order being prepared at the White House could deprive the United Nations of billions of dollars in US financial support.

The United States is by far the UN's biggest financial contributor, providing 22 percent of its operating budget and funding 28 percent of peacekeeping missions, which currently cost $7.8 billion annually.

Asked about the leaks in the New York Times and Washington Post, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric stressed that these were reports and that no decisions had been taken.

"We are eager to start discussions with the incoming US administration," he said.

The spokesman suggested that changes to UN funding would open up a lengthy process involving all 193 UN member-states who agree on sharing out the cost of UN programs and activities.

"The UN has the funding structure that it has. It is one that we operate with and that we will probably continue to operate with in the foreseeable future," he said.

- 40 percent cut -

The Trump administration is proposing a 40 percent cut in some US funding, according to the draft executive order titled "Auditing and Reducing US Funding of International Organizations."

The Washington Post reported that this would affect voluntary US contributions to programs such as those run by the UN children's agency UNICEF or humanitarian appeals.

The order would set up a committee to carry out a one-year review of US funding for UN agencies including the budget for the UN's 16 peacekeeping missions worldwide.

The order would scrap all funding to any UN agency or international body that gives full membership to the Palestinians, a measure that the United States already put in place after the UNESCO cultural agency recognized Palestine as a full member.

The new policy could affect US funding for the UN's climate change forum - the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) - which the Palestinians have joined.

UN diplomats expressed concern, but stressed that details were sketchy and that it remained unclear how the administration would apply the funding cuts.

French Ambassador Francois Delattre said it would be premature to comment, but added that his overall message to the new US administration was: "Please, stay committed to world affairs, because we need America."

During her US Senate confirmation hearing, Haley said she wanted to look at funding issues carefully but that she didn't believe in "slash and burn."

Guterres, who took over from Ban Ki-moon on January 1, has stressed the need to reform the United Nations to improve its ability to address conflicts and promote development.

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