FACT SHEET: Advancing U.S. Interests at the United Nations

New York, NY
April 6, 2011

Advancing U.S. Interests at the United Nations

The Obama Administration, in its first two years in office, has dramatically changed America’s course at the United Nations to advance our interests and values and help create a world of greater security and prosperity. We have repaired frayed relations with countries around the world. We've ended needless American isolation on a range of issues. And as a consequence, we've gotten strong cooperation on things that matter most to our national security interest.

What the President calls a “new era of engagement” has led to concrete results at the UN that advance U.S. foreign policy objectives and American security. The dividends of U.S. leadership at the UN are tangible – the stiffest UN sanctions ever against Iran and North Korea, renewed momentum to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials, strong sanctions and an unprecedented mandate to intervene and saves lives in Libya , support for the historic and peaceful referendum for independence in Southern Sudan, vital UN assistance in Afghanistan and Iraq, and initial progress on reform of the flawed UN Human Rights Council. In a world of 21st-century threats that pay no heed to borders, rebuilding a strong basis for international cooperation has allowed the U.S. to work together with others to solve common problems at the United Nations, making the American people more secure.

Non Proliferation

The President’s vision for a world without nuclear weapons includes a realistic path to get there. Several significant milestones on this important Administration priority have taken place at the UN.

UN Security Council Resolution 1887: In September 2009, the U.S. held the presidency of the UN Security Council, and President Obama chaired an historic Council Summit on nonproliferation and disarmament, culminating in the unanimous passage of Security Council Resolution 1887. This U.S.-drafted resolution reaffirmed the international community’s commitment to the global nonproliferation regime based on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, supported better security for nuclear weapons materials to prevent terrorists from acquiring materials essential to make a bomb, and made clear that all countries need to comply with their international nuclear obligations.

  • Iran: In June 2010, the United Nations Security Council voted overwhelmingly to put in place the toughest sanctions ever faced by the Iranian government for its continued failure to live up to its obligations, sending an unmistakable message about the international community’s commitment to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. The new sanctions in Resolution 1929 impose restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities, its ballistic missile program, and, for the first time, its conventional military. They put a new framework in place to stop Iranian smuggling and crack down on Iranian banks and financial transactions. They target individuals, entities, and institutions -– including those associated with the Revolutionary Guard –- that have supported Iran’s nuclear program and prospered from illicit activities at the expense of the Iranian people. The U.S. will ensure that these sanctions are vigorously enforced, just as we continue to refine and enforce our own sanctions on Iran alongside those of our friends and allies.

This strong resolution benefited from wide international support. In voting for it, the U.S. was joined by nations from Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America -– including Russia and China. And these sanctions show the united view of the international community that a nuclear arms race in the Middle East is in nobody’s interest and that nations must be held accountable for defying the global nonproliferation regime.

  • North Korea: In response to North Korea’s 2009 nuclear weapons test, the U.S. secured the unanimous adoption of Security Council Resolution 1874, which put in place a tough array of sanctions, including asset freezes, financial sanctions, a complete embargo on arms exports, and an unprecedented framework for the inspection of suspect vessels. Since the adoption of Resolution 1874, countries have intercepted and seized tons of contraband cargo, including a massive arms shipment uncovered by Thailand in December. These interdictions show that countries are taking seriously their obligations to enforce these tough new measures. The United States will continue to press on sanctions implementation until there is concrete, verifiable progress on denuclearization.
  • NPT Review Conference: In May 2010, NPT parties adopted by consensus a Final Document that advances a realistic path towards a world without nuclear weapons. This document includes calls for strengthened verification and compliance, recognizes the New START agreement and the need for deeper reductions of nuclear weapons, the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and the immediate start of talks on a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. It supports efforts to pursue international fuel banks and related mechanisms to broaden access to peaceful nuclear energy without creating new proliferation risks.

This major achievement is a vindication of the broad thrust of U.S. efforts to stop the further spread of nuclear weapons. Everyone recognizes that the new approach the United States has brought to the table on nonproliferation energized this Conference and the effort to reach a consensus final document. The contrast between the atmospherics of this Conference and the one held five years ago is dramatic.

Bolstering Progress in Afghanistan and Iraq

  • Afghanistan: Since 2009, the United States has pursued a new strategy in Afghanistan that, in addition to increased military efforts, placed much greater emphasis on the role of international civilian assistance. The U.S. has worked to ensure that the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) had the resources and political support to carry out its vital mission. The U.S. has also worked to strengthen all aspects of the UN presence in the country so that UNAMA can best complement efforts to support the Government of Afghanistan by the United States and the International Security Assistance Force and better coordinate donor support. The UN also played a key role in providing Afghan electoral institutions with technical and logistical support so that the people of Afghanistan could elect a new parliament to represent them.
  • Iraq: As the U.S. continues to reduce its footprint in Iraq, the UN Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) continues to play a critical role. The U.S. strongly supports the work of the UN Mission in Iraq as it continues to provide important technical assistance to the Government of Iraq, mediates longstanding internal boundary disputes, and assists displaced Iraqi citizens. Additionally, the U.S. played a key role in the passage of three recent resolutions that mark an important milestone in normalizing Iraqi ties to the international community that were significantly limited when Iraq was ruled by Saddam Hussein. The Security Council, in a special session chaired by Vice President Biden, passed three resolutions to help return Iraq to the legal and international standing it held prior to the 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The United States and the international community are keeping their commitments to the Government and the people of Iraq.

Protecting Civilians in Libya

  • Preventing Mass Atrocities: On March 17, the Security Council passed Resolution 1973, which authorizes states to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and enforce a no-fly zone. Due to its scope, and the speed with which it was passed, countless lives have been saved as a result of action taken following the adoption of the resolution. The U.S. has welcomed the decision of the UN Secretary General to appoint a special envoy for the crisis in Libya, Mr. Abdul Ilah Khatib, a former Foreign Minister of Jordan. He has traveled to Libya and is supporting the international community’s efforts to stop the killing and end the suffering of the civilian population.
  • Effective Sanctions: The Security Council has imposed on Libya one of the most sweeping sanctions regimes in place against any country. Resolutions 1970 and 1973 together provided for an arms embargo, a ban on flights by Libyan-operated aircraft and imposed asset freezes and travel bans on Qadhafi and his inner circle. Resolution 1973 also authorized states to use force to enforce the arms embargo and also froze the assets of major state-owned companies, including the National Oil Corporation and the Libyan Central Bank. These sanctions will make it harder for Qadhafi to acquire funds and arms to wage war on his people.

Accountability: The Security Council referred the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court – the first time it has done a referral unanimously. This will help ensure Qadhafi and regime leaders face accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

  • Humanitarian Assistance and Human Rights: The U.S. government is providing $47 million to UN agencies, international organizations and NGOs to address humanitarian needs generated by the crisis in Libya. The U.S. recognizes the central role of the United Nations in relief efforts and is directing resources to UN agencies as follows:

- $10 million contribution toward the U.N. World Food Program’s emergency food operations;

- $7 million to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which is working in both Tunisia and Egypt, including managing the transit center in Tunisia near the Tunisia-Libya border that is currently providing basic services to thousands of migrants.

The U.S. also welcomed the appointment of Mr. Rashid Khalikov as the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya. Mr. Khalikov has traveled to Libya to assess the humanitarian conditions on the ground and press for better access for humanitarian workers. The U.S. is committed to working with the U.N., numerous donor countries responding to the crises, regional partners, and Egypt and Tunisia to respond to humanitarian needs.

Strengthening UN Peacekeeping and Conflict Prevention Efforts

  • Improving Peacekeeping Effectiveness: In September 2009, President Obama hosted the first-ever meeting with the leaders of the top troop-contributing nations to UN peacekeeping operations, underscoring America’s commitment to this vital tool, which allows countries around the world to share the burden for protecting civilians and fragile peace processes in societies emerging from war. The U.S. continues to advance initiatives to strengthen UN peacekeeping capabilities, including by seeking to expand the number, capacity, and effectiveness of troop and police contributors, helping secure General Assembly approval for vital peacekeeping reforms, and working with fellow Security Council members to craft more credible and achievable mandates for operations in Haiti, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia and several other current operations.
  • Haiti: After the devastating earthquake of January 2010, which claimed the lives of over 100 UN personnel and the UN Mission’s leadership, the U.S. worked extremely closely with the UN to help the Government of Haiti ensure security and deliver vital humanitarian relief to the people of Haiti. Tens of thousands of U.S. forces were able to withdraw from Haiti within a few months, as countries from Latin America and around the world moved quickly to share the burden and augment the UN peacekeeping presence. Since the earthquake in Haiti, the U.S. government has spent $1.1 billion in humanitarian relief assistance and an additional $406 million in recovery assistance. At the New York donors’ conference held at UN Headquarters on March 31, 2010, the U.S. government pledged an additional $1.15 billion for reconstruction and has spent $332 million of that assistance in the last year. In total, this is $2.656 billion in U.S. assistance towards relief, recovery and reconstruction after the tragic earthquake.
  • Sudan: In 2010, the United States intensified its diplomatic efforts in the lead up to the historic, peaceful referendum in Southern Sudan. At the United Nations, President Obama spoke at a high-level meeting organized during the opening of the General Assembly to help galvanize international action to ensure a credible and timely referendum. The U.S. continues to work closely with the UN and other international partners to support implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and improve the humanitarian situation on the ground.

We continue to work with international partners to assist the parties’ post-referendum negotiations. The U.S. remains committed to the full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and we will continue to work closely with senior UN officials to improve the humanitarian situation on the ground. The U.S. also continues to work to end genocide and conflict in Darfur, including by supporting the joint UN and African Union peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) and by working to improve humanitarian access and conditions.

  • Liberia: The U.S. built an international consensus to maintain a robust peacekeeping operation in Liberia through the 2011 elections by leading a Security Council delegation to Liberia and working to ensure unbroken support for the implementation of the peace process.
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): The U.S. continues to champion improved protection of civilians, especially by demanding an end to the epidemic of rape and gender-based violence. The U.S. has worked successfully to secure new Security Council sanctions against key leaders of armed groups operating in the DRC, including one individual linked to crimes involving sexual and gender based violence and child soldier recruiting. Additionally, the U.S. lead the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution that supported, for the first time, due diligence guidelines for individuals and companies operating in the mineral trade in Eastern Congo and agreed to take into account the practice of due diligence when considering targeted sanctions.
  • Cote d’Ivoire: U.S. leadership helped produce a strong Security Council statement that made clear that all parties needed to respect the results of the November 2010 election, with President-elect Alassane Outtara as the victor. In March 2011, the U.S. pushed for the adoption of a strong resolution calling on former President Gbagbo to leave office and imposing targeted sanctions on him and his associates. The U.S. continues to support the work of the UN Mission in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI) working with partners to renew the mission’s mandate and increase its ranks by 2,000 troops. The UN’s full implementation of Resolution 1975 is critical to ongoing efforts to resolve the crisis.
  • Women, Peace and Security: The U.S., with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presiding, led the Security Council in unanimously adopting Resolution 1888 on Women, Peace, and Security, which condemns conflict-related sexual violence and calls on all parties to immediately end acts of rape and sexual violence during armed conflict. This initiative strengthens the international response to sexual violence in conflict by establishing a dedicated UN Special Representative, creating of a team of experts to investigate crimes and assist victims, and tracking data on sexual violence in UN reports.
  • Somalia: The U.S. helped garner international support for the Transitional Federal Government and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), including by supporting UN funding to keep international peacekeepers in the country. The U.S. has been a strong supporter of recent efforts to augment the number of troops deployed in AMISOM, which now has a force of nearly 12,000. Since AMISOM’s deployment in 2007, the United States has obligated more than $450 million to provide logistical support, equipment, and pre-deployment training to its forces. The United States has been the largest single country donor of humanitarian assistance to Somalia, providing more than $150 million in humanitarian assistance in Fiscal Year 2009. Additionally, the U.S. spearheaded efforts to secure renewed UN authority for international forces to fight piracy off the coast of Somalia. These authorities allow countries to continue to pursue pirates on Somali soil as well as in Somali territorial waters.
  • Eritrea: The U.S. supported the African Union’s call for sanctions on Eritrea, resulting in the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1907, which established an arms embargo and targeted sanctions on Eritrea for its continued role in destabilizing Somalia and the region and failure to comply with resolution 1862 on Djibouti.
  • Sri Lanka: The U.S. focused international attention to the plight of civilians in the conflict zone in northern Sri Lanka and pressed for their release from the internally displaced persons camps after the conflict ended.

Promoting a New Era of Engagement and Reform

  • Human Rights Council: The United States is working to reform the flawed Human Rights Council by speaking up for those suffering under the world’s cruelest regimes, fighting the Council’s excessive focus on Israel, and shining the spotlight on major human rights abuses worldwide.

Over the past two years, the United States has used its membership to draw attention to serious human rights abuses in Iran, Burma, Sudan, China, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Syria, Russia, Sri Lanka and elsewhere. With active U.S. leadership, the Council authorized international mandates to closely monitor and address the human rights situations in Burma, North Korea, Cambodia and Sudan. The U.S. was also instrumental in pushing for the creation of a group of independent experts to promote ending discrimination against women and girls.

In 2011, the U.S. succeeded in pressing for the Council to take assertive action to highlight Iran’s deteriorating human rights situation by establishing a Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Iran. The rapporteur will investigate and report on abuses in Iran and call out the failure of the Iranian government to meet its human rights obligations. This is the first new country mandate established since the Human Rights Council was formed in 2006.

U.S. leadership was also responsible for a Special Session on the situation in Cote d’Ivoire, which established a Commission of Inquiry to investigate human rights abuses in the country and reinforced the international community’s unequivocal message that President Ouattara must be allowed to serve as the elected head of state.

In response to the crisis in Libya, the United States played a pivotal role in convening the Council’s Special Session in February 2011 to condemn the recent human rights violations and other acts of violence committed by the Government of Libya, and establish an independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate those violations. In March 2011, the General Assembly unanimously suspended Libya’s membership on the Human Rights Council – marking the first time ever a member state has been suspended from the Council or its predecessor, the Human Rights Commission, for gross violations of human rights.

Also in March 2011, the Council took an important step away from the deeply problematic concept of defamation of religion by adopting a constructive new resolution that promotes tolerance for all religious beliefs, and is consistent with U.S. laws and universal values. Previous resolutions adopted under the concept of defamation of religion have been used to rationalize laws criminalizing blasphemy, and challenging widely held freedoms of expression and the press, rather than protecting religious freedom and human rights.

U.S. leadership and engagement is making a critical difference towards improving the work of the Council. The U.S. will run for re-election to the Council in 2012 to continue this significant work.

Human Rights: On behalf of the President, Ambassador Rice signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first new human rights treaty of the 21st century. In another important reversal of the previous Administration’s policy, President Obama announced U.S. support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples . The U.S. also provided leadership, working with our allies, to win victories by the largest vote margin ever on General Assembly resolutions condemning human rights violations in North Korea, Burma, and Iran.

In a reversal of the previous Administration’s policies on LGBT rights at the UN, the U.S. supported a landmark General Assembly declaration condemning human rights violations based on sexual orientation. The U.S. also spearheaded an effort that led to a decisive victory in the United Nations Economic and Social Council, which voted to grant consultative status to the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission (ILGHRC), a U.S.-based non-governmental organization that does invaluable work around the globe to protect basic human rights, combat discrimination, and fight against the scourge of HIV/AIDS. Following the removal of a reference to sexual orientation in a resolution condemning extrajudicial killings, the United States led a successful campaign to reinstate it in the final General Assembly resolution. And in December 2010, the United States joined other member states in a meeting of the LGBT core group in New York. And at the Human Rights Council in March 2011, a historic statement was signed by a record 85 nations, reaffirming the rights of all people – regardless of who they are and whom they love.

  • UN Women: The U.S. was instrumental in the establishment of a new UN agency called UN Women. This vital new organization combines four separate UN offices into one stronger, streamlined and more efficient entity for women around the world. UN Women will work to elevate women’s issues within the UN system and on the international stage. The U.S. is working very closely with Michelle Bachelet, the former President of Chile, as the first head of UN Women. In addition, when elections were held for the 41-member Executive Board, the U.S. secured a seat and supported other countries with strong records on women’s rights, while successfully leading efforts to block Iran’s bid for membership.
  • Development: The U.S. Mission to the UN played a pivotal role in the UN Summit this past fall that reaffirmed and revitalized the internationally community’s commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The United States also used the summit as an occasion for President Obama to launch the Administration’s Global Development Strategy.
  • Youth: The U.S. has led efforts to ensure that youth, representing nearly half the world’s population, have a voice in the work of the Security Council. During its December 2010 Security Council Presidency, the U.S. designed an unprecedented and innovative event to bring the views of youth directly to the Council. Nearly a 1,000 youth from more than 90 countries responded to an appeal to participate by sending in their suggestions to the Council, and Council members responded to their ideas during the event, which provides a model for future direct engagement with young people.
  • UN Arrears: Working with the U.S. Congress, the Administration was able to clear hundreds of millions in arrears to the United Nations, which accumulated between 2005 and 2008, and is now working to stay current with payments to the Organization.
  • UN Reform: As the largest financial contributor to the UN, ensuring that U.S. funds are spent wisely and not wasted is vital. The U.S. has worked to contain the growth of the UN budget and consistently pressed the issue of efficiency and accountability in our discussions with the UN, pushing for a focus on results. In 2009, the Administration successfully negotiated an agreement that held constant the share of U.S. assessed contributions to the United Nations.

The U.S. advocated and supported adoption of key elements of an accountability framework for the UN and for the first time this year defined what accountability means for the UN Secretariat. The U.S. has held back attempts to curb the authority and operational independence of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and succeeded in March 2010 in preserving OIOS’ existing mandate and authority. The U.S. supports transparency and holding the UN accountable and thus will continue to make public OIOS audit reports.

The United States has consistently and aggressively supported OIOS to be a strong and independent watchdog so that U.S. taxpayers’ money is spent wisely and UN programs are managed effectively. And while OIOS has provided valuable recommendations to improve the UN’s effectiveness and served as a deterrent in the area of waste, fraud, and sexual exploitation and abuse, it has had shortcomings, especially in the area of investigations. The U.S. has pushed hard for improvements in that function so that OIOS can more vigorously pursue fraud and misconduct. In that vein, the U.S. successfully pushed for the quick nomination of a new head of OIOS, who we will work with to improve oversight.

The U.S. supported the appointment of Joan Dubinsky, an American, to head the UN ethics office. And the United States has worked closely with the UN Secretariat and Member States in the General Assembly to approve an agenda for sweeping reform of how the UN undertakes administrative and logistics support for UN field operations (the Global Field Support Strategy) to capture efficiencies within peacekeeping operations and improve the UN’s capacity to support complex field missions.


PRN: 2011/071