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Defending bill as pro-Israel, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen counters critics of proposal to cut U.N. funding

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen fought back on Tuesday against critics who have derided her proposal to cut funding to the United Nations.

The Miami Republican, who chairs the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, submitted legislation two weeks ago that would, among other things, make funding to the U.N. voluntary and block U.S. funding to any U.N. agency that elevates Palestine's status in the international body.

The Obama administration has denounced the proposal, saying it would undermine U.S. foreign policy.

But Ros-Lehtinen countered in a Washington press conference that the bill is about protecting U.S. interests by ensuring that the country does not pay for diplomatic moves it opposes -- such as naming Libya to the Human Rights Council; naming North Korea and then Cuba to head the Conference on Disarmament, and upgrading Palestine to the same observer status as the Vatican, an action the U.N. General Assembly is preparing to take despite no progress in peace talks with Israel.

"I don't think that it's backwards to demand transparency, accountability and reform," Ros-Lehtinen said, surrounded by several of the bill's 57 Republican co-sponsors, including Rep. Allen West of Plantation.

They spoke in front of blown-up photos of Muammar Qaddafi of Libya and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran at the General Assembly. Ros-Lehtinen characterized the U.N. has being "in breach of contract with the American people." The U.S. paid some $7.7 billion to the U.N. last year -- what the country was assessed by the organization.

Instead, Ros-Lehtinen, a longtime U.N. critic, wants countries to volunteer funding. That is already the case for U.N. agencies such as UNICEF and the World Food Program, she said.

With the Senate controlled by Democrats and the administration against the bill, Ros-Lehtinen acknowledged her proposal has little chance of becoming law. But she said a "leadership vacuum" from the White House prompted her to show the U.S. means business on the matter of recognizing Palestinian statehood.

"My legislation lays down a marker and it says, let's work together," she said. "How will recognizing Palestine bring a peaceful resolution for Israel?"

"Let's get back to the founding principles of the UN," she added. "Let's not make it a staging ground for pariah states."

(On a side note, Ros-Lehtinen's press conference started a few minutes early. "Never let it be said that Cuban time is alive and well here in the Capitol," she quipped.)