UNITED NATIONS The General Assembly approved a two-year U.N. budget of $4.17 billion Saturday, with the United States casting the only "no" vote because of objections to funding for a follow-up to a conference it considered anti-Israel.
The 142-1 vote in the 192-member world body climaxed weeks of discussions and an all-night session that failed to reach consensus because of the U.S. objections that the budget included $6.7 million for a follow-up to the 2001 World Conference Against Racism. Forty-nine countries did not have delegates in the chamber for the vote.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the insistence of some members of the Group of 77, which represents 132 mainly developing countries and China, to fund a follow-up conference from the U.N.'s regular budget made it impossible for the United States to support the overall budget proposal.
The United States and Israel walked out of the September 2001 conference in Durban, South Africa, because of attacks on the Jewish state. The European Union nearly walked out but stayed until the end.
Several months later, Israel's then-deputy foreign minister, Michael Melchior, said the Durban conference "hosted the most racist speeches and proposals to be heard in an international forum since World War II." He added that "the conference became the mouthpiece for a new and venal form of anti-Semitism."
The budget is traditionally approved by consensus. But the United States demanded a vote in the General Assembly's budget committee late Friday night because of the insistence of key developing nations that the conference be funded from the regular U.N. budget rather than by voluntary contributions.
In the budget committee balloting, the financial blueprint was approved 141-1 with only the United States opposing it.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed regret in a statement "that the resolution was not adopted by consensus, marking a break with tradition after 20 years."
"The secretary-general urges all member states to return to consensus decision-making and to demonstrate a greater sense of flexibility and compromise, beyond individual national interests and in the common cause of multilateralism for the good of humankind," the statement said.
In late November, Ban proposed a two-year budget of $4.2 billion, saying the small increase was not much in light of the growing demands on the United Nations to address a range of new and existing diplomatic and security challenges. It represented a 5 percent increase over the $3.8 billion budget for the years 2006 and 2007
Later, U.N. management chief Alicia Barcena said that because of inflation and exchange rates, by the time the money is actually used the budget is expected to rise to $4.4 billion. Khalilzad said that by U.S. calculations, Ban's proposal was actually over $4.5 billion.
The United States, which pays 22 percent of the U.N.'s regular budget, made "a lot of progress" in bringing it down to about $4.2 billion, Khalilzad said.
The United States also succeeded in getting the committee to extend the Procurement Task Force, which has been pursuing fraud and corruption in U.N. purchasing, for a year rather than six months, he said.
"If we had achieved our goal with Durban, then the prospect of our joining the consensus would have been excellent," Khalilzad said.
The secretary-general didn't get approval for two key requests a new and more secure building in Baghdad for U.N. staff and offices, and funds to beef up the U.N. Department of Political Affairs and broaden its activities, including conflict prevention.
Khalilzad said these and other issues will be taken up in March, and could add additional costs to the budget.
The United States voiced objection during the negotiations to this, calling it a "piecemeal" approach where the final amount is still not known.