December 20, 2017 / 5:16 PM / 5 months ago

Trump threatens to cut aid to U.N. members over Jerusalem vote

WASHINGTON/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that vote in favor of a draft United Nations resolution calling for the United States to withdraw its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars, and then they vote against us. Well, we’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We’ll save a lot. We don’t care,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

The 193-member U.N. General Assembly will hold a rare emergency special session on Thursday - at the request of Arab and Muslim countries - to vote on a draft resolution, which the United States vetoed on Monday in the 15-member U.N. Security Council.

The remaining 14 Security Council members voted in favor of the Egyptian-drafted resolution, which did not specifically mention the United States or Trump but which expressed “deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem.”

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, in a letter to dozens of U.N. states on Tuesday seen by Reuters, warned that Trump had asked her to “report back on those countries who voted against us.”

She bluntly echoed that call in a Twitter post: “The U.S. will be taking names.”

Several senior diplomats said Haley’s warning was unlikely to change many votes in the General Assembly, where such direct, public threats are rare. Some diplomats brushed off the warning as more likely aimed at impressing U.S. voters.

According to figures from the U.S. government’s aid agency USAID, in 2016 the United States provided some $13 billion in economic and military assistance to countries in sub-Saharan Africa and $1.6 billion to states in East Asia and Oceania.

It provided some $13 billion to countries in the Middle East and North Africa, $6.7 billion to countries in South and Central Asia, $1.5 billion to states in Europe and Eurasia and $2.2 billion to Western Hemisphere countries, according to USAID.

Miroslav Lajcak, president of the General Assembly, declined to comment on Trump’s remarks, but added: “It’s the right and responsibility of member states to express their views.”

A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also declined to comment on Trump’s remarks on Wednesday.

“I like the message that Nikki sent yesterday at the United Nations, for all those nations that take our money and then they vote against us at the Security Council, or they vote against us potentially at the assembly,” Trump said.

U.S. President Donald Trump excuses reporters after his remarks to them at the start of a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

‘BULLYING’

Trump abruptly reversed decades of U.S. policy this month when he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, generating outrage from Palestinians and the Arab world and concern among Washington’s Western allies.

He also plans to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. The draft U.N. resolution calls on all countries to refrain from establishing diplomatic missions in Jerusalem.

A senior diplomat from a Muslim country, speaking on condition of anonymity, said of Haley’s letter: “States resort to such blatant bullying only when they know they do not have a moral or legal argument to convince others.”

Responding directly to that comment on Twitter, Haley said: “Actually it is when a country is tired of being taken for granted.”

A senior Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, described Haley’s letter as “poor tactics” at the United Nations “but pretty good for Haley 2020 or Haley 2024,” referring to speculation that Haley might run for higher office.

“She’s not going to win any votes in the General Assembly or the Security Council, but she is going to win some votes in the U.S. population,” the Western diplomat said.

A senior European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, agreed Haley was unlikely to sway many U.N. states.

“We are missing some leadership here from the U.S. and this type of letter is definitely not helping to establish U.S. leadership in the Middle East peace process,” the diplomat said.

Israel considers Jerusalem its eternal and indivisible capital and wants all embassies based there. Palestinians want the capital of an independent Palestinian state to be in the city’s eastern sector, which Israel captured in a 1967 war and annexed in a move never recognized internationally.

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“The first name that she should write down is Bolivia,” Bolivia’s U.N. Ambassador Sacha Sergio Llorentty Solíz said of Haley’s message. “We regret the arrogance and disrespect to the sovereign decision of member states and to multilateralism.”

Reporting by Roberta Rampton; writing by Doina Chiacu; editing by Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio

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