US vows to embrace UN in break with Bush-era policy

Wed Aug 12, 2009 11:25pm EDT

* Rice says United Nations needs reforms

* Obama administration to cooperate with U.N. (Adds details from Rice's speech, quotes)

By Louis Charbonneau

NEW YORK, Aug 12 (Reuters) - The Obama administration will work with the United Nations to fight terrorism and other major world challenges, U.S. envoy Susan Rice said on Wednesday, marking a clear shift from the Bush administration's disregard for the world body.

Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said in a speech at New York University Washington must lead by example, acknowledge its mistakes, change its policies and strategies when necessary and treat others with respect.

"The global challenges we face cannot be tackled without U.S. leadership," Rice said. "But while U.S. leadership is necessary, it is rarely sufficient. We need the effective cooperation of a broad range of friends and partners."

Among these challenges, Rice said, are the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea, the global financial crisis, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, pandemics and global warming.

President Barack Obama has promised a "new era of engagement" with the United Nations, which was often criticized and occasionally ridiculed by members of the administration of former President George W. Bush.

In the new Obama administration's most detailed statement on its U.N. policy, Rice said Washington would avoid the "condescension and contempt" that she said had crept into U.S. government attitudes toward the international community. She did not specifically mention Bush or his administration.

"We have seen the costs of disengagement," she said. "We have paid the price of stiff-arming the U.N. and spurning our international partners. The United States will lead in the 21st century-not with hubris, not by hectoring, but through patient diplomacy."

She noted that Washington had decided to join the U.N. Human Rights Council, which the Bush administration spurned as an anti-Israel forum, as an example of the new approach to world issues. She also mentioned the Obama administration's determination to improve relations with the Muslim world.

"We work for change from within rather than criticizing from the sidelines," Rice said. "We stand strong in defense of America's interests and values, but we don't dissent just to be contrary. We listen to states, great and small. We build coalitions. We meet our responsibilities. We pay our bills."

U.N. PROBLEMS

Last week Rice announced that Washington would hand over more than $2 billion in new and old contributions owed to the U.N. peacekeeping department.

Relations between the United States and the United Nations reached a low point in 2003, the year of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan branded the war an illegal act by the Bush administration.

Rice said the U.N. administration and the 192-nation General Assembly both needed reform. The assembly continues to single out Israel for criticism and let "political theater distract from real deliberation."

Among the problems at the United Nations, she said, are a Security Council that remains divided on the conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region, Zimbabwe's reconstruction efforts, the military government in Myanmar and other issues.

After her speech, Rice was asked how U.S. relations with China and Russia were now that Washington was reaching out to both superpowers to improve cooperation on the Security Council on issues like Iran and North Korea.

"It's not perfect, but it's a lot better," she said.

(Editing by Paul Simao and Jackie Frank)




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