The U.S. government says it has negotiated a significant cut in the United Nations budget.
The U.S. Mission to the United Nations said on Sunday that the U.N.’s 2018-2019 budget would be slashed by over $285 million. The mission said reductions would also be made to the U.N.’s management and support functions.
The announcement didn’t make clear the entire amount of the budget or specify what effect the cut would have on the U.S. contribution.
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said that the “inefficiency and overspending” of the organization is well-known, and she would not let “the generosity of the American people be taken advantage of.”
She also said that while the mission was pleased with the results of budget negotiations, it would continue to “look at ways to increase the U.N.’s efficiency? while protecting our interests.”
Nikki Haley crouched low in the trailer of an 18-wheeler taping up a box of lentils and wheat for besieged Syrians, her hands-on diplomacy a world apart from the gleaming new NATO headquarters where President Donald Trump was debuting his “America First” doctrine overseas.
Haley, Trump’s U.N. ambassador, had started the day in Turkey’s capital, opened a refugee school in the south of the country, then traveled hours in an armored vehicle to the Syrian border. Her afternoon stop had to be short. She had a packed schedule, and at a nearby refugee camp she was soon kicking soccer balls with stranded Syrians and noshing on shawarma.
As she hopped a flight to Istanbul, Trump was arriving in Brussels to scold European allies for relying too much on U.S. defense spending. Haley’s mission represented another side of Trump’s “America First,” assuring nations on the border of the world’s worst crisis that the U.S. wasn’t forgetting them.
“I think ‘America First’ is human rights and ‘America First’ is humanitarian issues,” Haley said. “It’s what we’ve always been known for.”
Haley’s trip last week to Jordan and Turkey showcased the outspoken former South Carolina governor-turned-Trump diplomat’s emergence as Trump’s foreign policy alter ego: still bold, still brash-talking, but with greater attention to America’s traditional global roles and the personable side of diplomacy.
Whereas Trump has emphasized U.S. security and prosperity and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has distinguished between America’s interests and its values, Haley is the national security voice insisting the U.S. still seeks to promote human rights, democracy and the well-being of others. Yet Haley brushes off any suggestion of divergent interests, arguing instead that the members of Trump’s Cabinet simply “see the world through a different scope.”
“We take basically what we work with every day and try to make America first through that lens,” she said at Altinozu Refugee Camp in southern Turkey, in explaining her sharply contrasting style. “For me to make America first, I have to fight for the political solution, have to fight for human rights and I have to fight for humanitarian issues, because I’m surrounded by it every day.”
So far, the White House has cautiously embraced Haley’s higher profile, perhaps as an antidote to Democratic and Republican critiques that Trump doesn’t care about human rights. Her prominent role as a face of Trump’s foreign policy has fueled talk in Washington about her political future, including potentially as a future secretary of state.
And while Haley has sometimes contributed to mixed messages, on everything from Syria to the delicate issue of Jerusalem’s status, the White House has continued sending her out frequently to represent the administration in public and on television.
Haley’s role as boundary-pusher may have roots in her political upbringing in South Carolina, where the daughter of Indian immigrants became the first female governor in a state notorious for its “good-old-boy” Republican network.
When a self-avowed white supremacist gunned down nine black worshippers in a Charleston church, Haley sat front-and-center for weeks at every one of the funerals. She grieved publicly throughout her second term after the “1,000-year flood,” Hurricane Matthew, and other tragedies in the state.
Yet it was her role in the roiling controversy over removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds that largely defined her ascent as a national political figure. For many in the state, it was a cherished symbol of Civil War sacrifices. But the rebel flag had been brandished by the Charleston church gunman in a display of hate, and Haley said South Carolinians needed to move forward and “put themselves in other people’s shoes.”
“She’s definitely someone who seemed to rise to the occasion when faced with these controversies,” said Gibbs Knotts, who teaches political science at the College of Charleston. “She hadn’t necessarily had a legislative success, but her ability to handle crises and connect with people and represent the state was when she was at her strongest as governor.”
After being picked by Trump in January for the U.N. ambassadorship, Haley said that “everything I’ve done leading up to this point has always been about diplomacy.”
“It’s been about trying to lift up everyone, getting them to work together for the greater good, and that’s what I’m going to attempt to do going forward,” she said.
As a member of Trump’s administration, though, it’s been more complicated.
While Haley conducted her reassurance tour for Syria’s neighbors last week, Trump unveiled a budget proposing sweeping cuts to U.S. foreign aid. Many of the same U.N. agencies whose programs Haley visited faced sharply reduced U.S. contributions, creating uncertainty about whether she could deliver on her declarations of support.
It’s contradictions like that, plus her extemporaneous style, that have led to speculation she sometimes deviates from the approved message in an administration in which Trump seeks to be the brightest star, demands loyalty and doesn’t tolerate public dissent. After the U.S. blamed a chemical attack on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, Haley was outspoken in questioning Assad’s future while Tillerson and Trump were more circumspect. It took about a week for trio to get on the same page.
Associated Press writer Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.
Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP
A U.N. human rights expert voiced alarm on Friday that U.S. President Donald Trump might allow torture in interrogations and called for senior officials from George W. Bush’s administration to be prosecuted for allowing the illegal practice.
U.S. officials responsible for the secret detention, rendition and torture programs run by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) included “those in the most senior positions” under Bush, said Ben Emmerson, U.N. special rapporteur on protecting human rights while countering terrorism.
“To hear President Trump, in the first days after his inauguration, glibly extolling the virtues of torture as a weapon in the fight against terrorism, and confirming his personal willingness to authorize the use of torture if asked to do so, was enough to make my blood run cold,” Emmerson said.
Trump has acknowledged that U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis disagrees with him about the usefulness of torture in interrogation and said he would defer to him on the issue.
There was no immediate response from the U.S. delegation to the 47-member state forum in Geneva.
Emerson, a British barrister and international criminal justice expert, said that Trump’s comments showed a “staggering level of ill-preparedness to govern.” He was making his final speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council after six years in the independent post.
A veteran CIA clandestine service officer who ran one of the agency’s “black site” prisons set up after the 9/11 attacks has named deputy director of the U.S. spy agency.
Trump’s nominee to be the director of national intelligence, former Republican Senator Dan Coats, has raised concerns over his record on the previous U.S. use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, which are widely seen as torture.
“If one of the most powerful nations in the world, a permanent member of the Security Council, is once again prepared to abandon our collective values on the pretext of defending them, then one is left to wonder whether anything at all has been achieved in the last 15 years,” Emmerson said.
The House overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan measure Thursday that rebukes the United Nations for criticizing Israeli settlements as Republicans used the debate to accuse President Barack Obama of turning his back on the Jewish state.
Lawmakers voted 342-80 for the non-binding resolution that declares unwavering support for Israel and insists that the United States reject any future U.N. actions that are similarly “one-sided and anti-Israel.”
“Our government abandoned our ally Israel when she needed us the most,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. “It is time to repair the damage done by this misguided hit job at the U.N.”
The measure divided Democrats. Nearly 80 opposed the measure because they said it contained inaccuracies and distorted the complexities of the Middle East peace process. They also accused Republicans of attacking Obama unfairly in the waning days of his presidency.
“The point of the measure seems to be to bash Obama on the way out,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who along with many other Democrats still voiced strong support for Israel. They said Obama deserved credit for engineering last year’s new, long-term security agreement that gives Israel $38 billion in U.S. military aid, including $5 billion for missile defenses.
A similar bipartisan measure to reprimand the U.N. has been introduced in the Senate. “Israel is always the bad guy in the eyes of the United Nations,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of the measure’s co-sponsors.
Attention from the move by the U.N. last month could provide fuel for pro-Israel initiatives favored by conservatives on Capitol Hill. For example, a small group of Republican senators is proposing to withhold 50 percent of the State Department’s 2017 budget until the U.S. Embassy in Israel is moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. During the campaign, President-elect Donald Trump promised to shift the embassy.
But a spokesman for Jordan’s government told The Associated Press on Thursday that the embassy move would be a “red line” for Jordan and “inflame the Islamic and Arab streets.” Jordan serves as custodian of a major Islamic shrine in east Jerusalem and the Palestinians seek a capital there.
Israel and its supporters lashed out at Obama for his decision to abstain and allow the U.N. Security Council to approve in December a resolution calling Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem “a flagrant violation under international law.”
Although the U.S. is opposed to the settlements, it has traditionally used its veto power as a permanent member of the Security Council to scuttle resolutions that condemn Israel. Disputes between Israel and the Palestinians must be resolved through direct negotiations, according to longstanding practice and policy.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, accused Obama of a “shameful ambush” and said he was looking forward to working with Trump, whom he described as his friend.
But Secretary of State John Kerry said in a late December speech that the U.S. was standing up for a two-state solution when it abstained on the resolution. He criticized Israel for settlement building and blamed Netanyahu for dragging Israel away from democracy.
Kerry said expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem are leading to an “irreversible one-state reality.”
The Palestinians seek the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war, for an independent state. They say that Israeli settlements in these areas, now home to about 600,000 Israelis, are threatening their plans for independence by taking in lands where they hope to establish their state.
The U.N. resolution, along with Kerry’s speech, essentially endorsed the Palestinian position by calling for the pre-1967 lines to serve as the reference point for a final border.
Netanyahu, who opposes a return to the 1967 lines, has condemned the moves as “skewed” and “shameful.”
Rep. Ed Royce of California, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the panel’s top Democrat, sponsored the House measure. The U.N. resolution “undermines the prospect for Israelis and Palestinians resuming productive, direct negotiations,” according to their legislation, and should be “repealed or fundamentally altered.”
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Stepping into a raging diplomatic argument, Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday staunchly defended the Obama administration’s decision to allow the U.N. Security Council to declare Israeli settlements illegal and warned that Israel’s very future as a democracy is at stake.
Kerry, pushing back on Israel’s fury at the U.S. abstention of the United Nations vote, questioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s true commitment to Palestinian statehood, which has formed the basis for all serious peace talks for years. Though Netanyahu says he believes in the two-state solution, Kerry said, under his leadership Israel’s government is “the most right-wing in Israel’s history.”
“If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both, and it won’t ever really be at peace,” Kerry said in a farewell speech, a comprehensive airing of grievances that have built up in the Obama administration over eight years but were rarely, until this month, discussed publicly.
Kerry’s speech marked the latest escalation in the vicious, drama-filled row between the U.S. and Israel that has erupted in the last days of Obama’s administration. The extraordinary display of discord between allies — with U.S. and Israeli officials openly disparaging each other — has also pitted President Barack Obama against President-elect Donald Trump, who has firmly taken Netanyahu’s side.
Israel’s government was enraged after the U.S. abstained from voting on the U.N. Security Council resolution last week that called Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem a violation of international law. Netanyahu accused the U.S. of colluding with the Palestinians and helping draft the resolution.
The U.S. has vehemently denied those charges. Kerry insisted the U.S. “did not draft or originate” the resolution, introduce by Egypt and later by a handful of other nations.
“The United States did in fact vote in accordance with our values, just as previous administrations have done,” Kerry said at the State Department. “The vote in the United Nations was about preserving the two-state solution. That’s what we were standing up for.”
Though Kerry’s speech was likely to further enrage Israel’s government, Kerry did offer assurances that Obama wasn’t planning other parting shots that Israel has been concerned are in the works. Kerry said the outgoing administration wouldn’t promote a U.N. resolution laying out parameters for a deal, nor would it recognize Palestinian statehood.
For years, Obama has been deeply frustrated by the continuing growth of Israeli settlements despite his pleas to Netanyahu to rein them in. Israel’s government argues previous settlement freezes have failed to spur progress toward a peace deal and that stopping or removing them mustn’t be a precondition for future talks.
Point by point, Kerry tried to rebut the arguments Israel has used to defend the settlements, declaring that “the settler agenda is defining the future of Israel.” He warned that Israel was at risk of a permanent occupation of Palestinian territory, drawing a pointed reference to America’s own history of racial segregation.
“Separate and unequal is what you would have, and nobody can explain how that works,” Kerry said.
Kerry reiterated that the Obama administration’s commitment to Israel was as strong as that of previous presidents, but he also noted that previous U.S. administrations had also abstained on certain resolutions critical of Israel. He emphasized the record levels of military assistance the U.S. has provided Israel under Obama, codified by a 10-year aid deal recently struck worth $38 billion.
“No American administration has done more for Israel’s security than Barack Obama’s,” Kerry said.
Obama, who is vacationing with his family in Hawaii, hasn’t commented publicly on the resolution or the resulting spat.
Seeking to show he wasn’t focusing exclusively on Israel’s failings, Kerry in the same sentence bemoaned Israel’s “seemingly endless occupation” of Palestinian land and Palestinian leaders’ “incitement” of violence. He invoked the widespread concern that the growing Arab population will eventually make Jews a minority in Israel, creating a democratic crisis for Israel unless there’s a separate Palestinian state.
Israeli leaders have made no secret that they are counting on Trump to change U.S. policy, and Trump assured them hours before Kerry’s speech that they just needed to “hang on” until Jan. 20, when he would be sworn in as president. While Trump has not outlined a vision, he has signaled a much more sympathetic approach toward Israel, appointing an ambassador with strong ties to the West Bank settler movement and promising to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem over Palestinian and others’ objections.
“President-elect Trump, thank you for your warm friendship and your clear-cut support for Israel,” Netanyahu said on Twitter before Kerry’s speech.
A senior Israeli Cabinet minister, Gilad Erdan, on Wednesday called Kerry’s speech a “pathetic step,” before Kerry even began speaking.
The international community overwhelmingly opposes Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in 1967 and claimed by the Palestinians for an independent state. The Palestinians, and most of the world, see settlements, now home to 600,000 Israelis, as an obstacle to peace.
Lederman reported from Honolulu. Associated Press writer Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
Donald Trump is questioning its effectiveness of the United Nations, saying it’s just a club for people to “have a good time,” after the U.N. Security Council voted last week to condemn Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem,
The president-elect wrote Monday on Twitter that the U.N. has “such great potential,” but it has become “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!”
On Friday, Trump warned, “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th,” referring to the day he takes office.
The decision by the Obama administration to abstain from Friday’s U.N. vote brushed aside Trump’s demands that the U.S. exercise its veto and provided a climax to years of icy relations with Israel’s leadership.
Meanwhile, the billionaire businessman took to Twitter Monday evening to say he believes his election as president has benefited the economy.
“The world was gloomy before I won — there was no hope,” he said in a verified post on his Twitter account. “Now, the market is up nearly 10 percent and Christmas spending is over a trillion dollars.”
Markets are up since Trump won the general election, although not quite by that much. The Standard & Poor’s 500 is up about 6 percent since Election Day, while the Dow has risen more than 8 percent.
As for holiday spending, auditing and accounting firm Deloitte projected in September that total 2016 holiday sales were expected to exceed $1 trillion, representing a 3.6 percent to 4.0 percent increase in holiday sales from November through January.
Trump also used social media to complain anew about criticism of the Donald J. Trump Foundation. In one post, he said, “The DJT Foundation, unlike most foundations, never paid fees, rent, salaries or any expenses. 100 % of the money goes to wonderful charities.”
He also tweeted that “I gave millions of dollars to DJT Foundation, raised or received millions more. ALL of which is given to charity, and media won’t report.”
Trump had said Saturday that he wanted to dissolve his charitable foundation amid efforts to eliminate any conflicts of interest before he takes office next month.
He said in a statement that he has directed his counsel to take the necessary steps to implement the dissolution of the Donald J. Trump Foundation.
The Democratic National Committee criticized him for what it called “a wilted fig leaf to cover up his remaining conflicts of interest and his pitiful record of charitable giving.”
A 2015 tax return posted on the nonprofit monitoring website GuideStar shows the Donald J. Trump Foundation acknowledged that it used money or assets in violation of IRS regulations — not only during 2015, but in prior years. Those regulations prohibit self-dealing by the charity. That’s broadly defined as using its money or assets to benefit Trump, his family, his companies or substantial contributors to the foundation.
The tax filing doesn’t provide details on the violations. Whether Trump benefited from the foundation’s spending has been the subject of an investigation by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
On the Middle East, Trump told The Associated Press last December that he wanted to be “very neutral” on Israel-Palestinian issues. But his tone became decidedly more pro-Israel as the presidential campaign progressed. He has spoken disparagingly of Palestinians, saying they have been “taken over” by or are condoning militant groups.
Trump’s tweet Monday about the U.N. ignores much of the work that goes on in the 193-member global organization.
This year the U.N. Security Council has approved over 70 legally binding resolutions, including new sanctions on North Korea and measures tackling conflicts and authorizing the U.N.’s far-flung peacekeeping operations around the world. The General Assembly has also approved dozens of resolutions on issues, like the role of diamonds in fueling conflicts; condemned human rights abuses in Iran and North Korea; and authorized an investigation of alleged war crimes in Syria.
Trump’s criticism of the U.N. is by no means unique. While the organization does engage in large-scale humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts, its massive bureaucracy has long been a source of controversy. The organization has been accused by some Western governments of being inefficient and frivolous, while developing nations have said it is overly influenced by wealthier nations.
The president-elect is spending the holidays at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
Associated Press writer Edith Lederer in New York contributed to this report.
The U.S. green light that allowed the U.N. Security Council to condemn Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem could spur moves toward new terms to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But it also poses dangers for the United Nations with the incoming Trump administration and may harden Israel’s attitude toward concessions.
The Obama administration’s decision to abstain and allow the U.N.’s most powerful body to approve a long-sought resolution calling Israeli settlements “a flagrant violation under international law” was a sharp rebuke to a longstanding ally and a striking rupture with past U.S. vetoes.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said “it is because this resolution reflects the facts on the ground — and is consistent with U.S. policy across Republican and Democratic administrations throughout the history of the state of Israel — that the United States did not veto it.”
She cited a 1982 statement by then-President Ronald Reagan that the United States “will not support the use of any additional land for the purpose of settlements” and that “settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel.”
The Security Council vote Friday, however, was anything but routine for Washington, which traditionally vetoes all resolutions related to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict on grounds that differences must be solved through negotiations. It was the first resolution on the conflict approved during President Barack Obama’s nearly eight years in office and shone a spotlight on his icy relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The U.S. decision to abstain on the 14-0 vote followed months of intensely secret deliberations in Washington, a spate of fresh Israeli settlement announcements that sparked exasperation and anger from American officials, and recent attempts by Israel’s government to have parliament legalize thousands of homes built on privately owned Palestinian land.
After Egypt suddenly postponed a scheduled vote on the resolution Thursday, reportedly under pressure from Israel and supporters of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, four new sponsors stepped up and pushed it through — Malaysia, New Zealand, Venezuela and Senegal, each representing a different region and reflecting the wide support for the measure.
Trump demanded that Obama veto the resolution and tweeted after the vote, “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th” — when Trump takes office.
It would be virtually impossible, however, for Trump to overturn the resolution. It would require a new resolution with support from at least nine members in the 15-member Security Council and no veto by one of the other permanent members — Russia, China, Britain or France, all of whom supported Friday’s resolution.
Republicans, who control Congress, immediately threatened consequences. Sen. Lindsay Graham, who heads the Senate panel in charge of U.S. payments to the U.N., said he would “form a bipartisan coalition to suspend or significantly reduce” funding. He added that countries receiving U.S. aid could also be penalized for supporting the resolution.
Under U.N. rules, failure to pay dues leads to the loss of voting privileges in the General Assembly.
The vote on settlements sparked behind-the-scenes discussion in the usually divided Security Council on what else might be achieved on the Israeli-Palestinian issue while Obama is still in the White House.
New Zealand has been pressing for the council to consider a resolution that would set out the parameters for a settlement of the conflict, and its draft ideas remain on the table.
But Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon warned the council after the vote that the resolution would not spur peace efforts.
“By voting ‘yes’ in favor of this resolution, you have in fact voted ‘no,'” Danon said. “You voted ‘no’ to negotiations. You voted ‘no’ to progress, and a chance for better lives for Israelis and Palestinians. And you voted ‘no’ to the possibility of peace.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately retaliated against some of the nations that proposed Friday’s resolution. He recalled his nation’s ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal for consultations, canceled a planned January visit to Israel by Senegal’s foreign minister and ended Israeli aid programs to the West African nation.
“Israel rejects this shameful anti-Israel resolution at the U.N. and will not abide by its terms,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.
The Israeli leader blamed Obama for failing to “protect Israel against this gang-up at the U.N.” and even colluding with its detractors. He said, “Israel looks forward to working with President-elect Trump and with all our friends in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, to negate the harmful effects of this absurd resolution.”
By contrast, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat hailed the result as a “victory for the justice of the Palestinian cause.” He said Trump’s choice was now between “international legitimacy” or siding with “settlers and extremists.”
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. ambassador, urged the Security Council to “stand firm by this decision” and “not be cowed by negative threats or spin.”
Standing before the United Nations for the last time as president, Barack Obama will reassure foreign leaders that the world is better equipped to tackle its challenges than at almost any point in history despite a cascade of harrowing crises that seem devoid of viable solutions.
Obama’s speech is always a focal point of the annual U.N. General Assembly, but his address Tuesday marks Obama’s swan song on the international stage. He stepped into his role eight years ago with sky-high expectations and has struggled to deliver when it comes to solving global problems partially beyond America’s control.
Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said the president was cognizant of the fact that bright spots such as economic growth and climate change cooperation are offset by the “great deal of unease” in the world, including Syria’s civil war and concerns about Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine.
“The way the president will approach this is trying to apply what we have done that’s worked in the last eight years as a template for how we deal with other crises,” Rhodes said.
He cited diplomatic achievements on Iran and global warming and outreach to former U.S adversaries Cuba and Myanmar as illustrative of the approach Obama hoped would continue after he leaves office.
Yet it will be hard for world leaders to look beyond the pressing problems that are shadowing this year’s U.N. confab.
Just as Obama and fellow heads of state were gathering Monday, Syria’s military declared the week-old cease-fire over following numerous breaches and airstrikes hitting an aid convoy to a distressed part of Syria, which the U.S. blamed on Syria or Russia. The setbacks were fresh indicators that even the most hard-fought diplomatic gambles have failed to lessen the violence in Syria for any lasting stretch of time.
And hanging over the U.N. gathering was a weekend bombing a short subway ride away that New York’s mayor has declared an act of terror. Security in Manhattan, already high in light of the U.N. summit, was further tightened.
Despite these concerns, the White House has cast Obama’s address as one of his final opportunities to define how his leadership has made the planet safer and more prosperous. Obama’s aides have focused on how the U.S. has a fraction of the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan than it had when Obama took office and how nations are finally poised to act in concert to reduce greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.
Obama’s other major priority at the U.N. this year is to force more aggressive action to mitigate the worst refugee crisis since World War II, stemming in large part from the Syria war. In addition to his speech, Obama on Tuesday planned to host a summit on refugees. The idea is for nations to show up with concrete commitments to accept and support more refugees, and Obama’s U.N. ambassador, Samantha Power, said the U.S. told several nations that their initial offers were insufficient.
As part of Obama’s push, more than 50 U.S. companies were pledging to spend, raise or contribute more than $650 million to support refugees’ resettlement, education and employment, the White House said. The list includes prominent companies including Western Union, Twitter, Microsoft, Ikea and Google.
The Obama administration has emphasized that a half-dozen other countries including Germany and Jordan are co-hosting the refugee summit, but it’s largely been a U.S.-driven endeavor.
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville in New York contributed to this report.
Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP
The chlorine was expired. The protective gear was missing. And the red tape was so thick that responders fighting last year’s Ebola outbreak had trouble getting approval for boots and buckets.
The 2014 Ebola epidemic pitted a lethal virus against barely-there health systems, and it was always going to be deadly. But an Associated Press investigation has found that a string of avoidable errors badly undermined the work of international aid workers.
The World Health Organization, charged with leading the fight against global outbreaks, already has been criticized over its management of the disease-fighting effort. Earlier this year, an AP investigation found that WHO delayed declaring an international emergency — similar to an SOS signal — on political and economic grounds. Newly obtained emails, documents and interviews show that WHO and other responders failed to organize a strong response even after the signal was issued.
Experts say the bungling ultimately cost lives across West Africa.
“There’s no question that a better and earlier response from WHO could have resulted in thousands and thousands of fewer deaths than we saw,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University in New York.
Kenema is a diamond town whose potholed roads turn to red sludge in the rainy season. Experts and insiders say the chaotic response there last year was a microcosm of the Ebola-fighting efforts across West Africa as the disease spiraled out of control. To date, Ebola has killed more than 11,000 people and officials estimate the epidemic won’t be stopped before the end of the year.
As Ebola cases climbed in July 2014, WHO’s Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan identified Kenema as one of two priority areas.
“Transportation, PPE (personal protective equipment) and other equipment must (be) provided,” she wrote on July 24.
But staffers regularly received expired or questionable chlorine, incidents that spooked an already rattled staff. Nurse Donnell Tholley said workers sometimes resorted to donning ill-fitting gloves for their hands and stray plastic packaging on their feet — instead of the tall protective rubber boots they needed. More than 40 health workers died and others abandoned the hospital out of fear. Joseph Fair, a U.S. disease expert in Freetown advising the Sierra Leonean government, described WHO as “paralyzed,” recalling interminable conference calls debating things like the color of body bags.
The situation at Kenema Government Hospital was horrific — blood-drenched patients lay in agony in understaffed wards and WHO staffers made repeated requests for support that went unanswered. Other aid workers declined to work there, citing the dangerous conditions; there was virtually no triage and patients often were shuffled to the Ebola ward with incomprehensible slips of paper.
When the Red Cross offered to build an Ebola treatment center to alleviate the pressure on the hospital, it was held up because no one in Sierra Leone’s government or WHO could tell them where to build it.
“We are at risk of very poor perception by the public when we send in IFRC (Red Cross) then block their ability to care for patients,” WHO’s Ian Norton wrote in a note to his colleagues.
By the time the clinic was finally built, the peak of the outbreak in Kenema had passed. Twenty health workers were infected in the interim. Many patients who succumbed to the virus were buried in a cemetery behind the clinic, their graves marked with numbers instead of names.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, WHO’s top Ebola official, said it was common for Ebola treatment centers to be caught up in political wrangling. “Undoubtedly in some cases there was bureaucracy,” he said. But he argued it was wrong to lay the blame at WHO’s door. “These were government decisions at the end of the day,” he said.
Complaints about WHO leadership focused in part on Jacob Mufunda, the agency’s top representative in Sierra Leone.
Requests to fix critical problems like the hospital’s shaky generator regularly went unfulfilled by Mufunda’s office, leaving staffers to cover thousands of dollars’ worth of expenses out of their own pockets, according to two people who were there at the time, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.
An email from Chan, WHO’s top leader, which AP obtained, corroborates allegations of tight-fistedness, not just in Kenema but across West Africa. Chan told Mufunda and other senior officials that only a tiny fraction of needed cash was being released and that the problem had festered for four months.
“I expect all our colleagues … to facilitate experts and staff to do their field work and not to post barriers because business as usual does not work during crisis,” she wrote.
Mufunda, who was reassigned to run WHO’s office in Mozambique shortly thereafter, did not return messages seeking comment.
The problems that hamstrung the Ebola response have prompted soul-searching at WHO and across the public health community.
Two months ago, a WHO-commissioned panel criticized the organization’s lack of leadership but did not mention the logistical problems uncovered by AP. All of the top leaders at WHO during the Ebola outbreak remain on the payroll, except for its Africa director, who retired after serving out his term.
That has left outsiders dismayed.
“I personally would have no confidence that the same team at WHO would be able to handle the next international outbreak,” said Redlener, the disaster prevention expert. “We’ve already seen what the old leadership at WHO has been able to do so I don’t know why we would expect them to be able to right themselves.”
Cheng and Satter reported from London and Paris.
Maria Cheng can be reached at: https://twitter.com/mylcheng
Raphael Satter can be reached at: http://raphae.li
Krista Larson can be reached at: https://twitter.com/klarsonafrica
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has signed a bill targeting a school district’s ethnic studies program, hours after a report by United Nations human rights experts condemned the measure.
State schools chief Tom Horne, who has pushed the bill for years, said he believes the Tucson school district’s Mexican-American studies program teaches Latino students that they are oppressed by white people.
Public schools should not be encouraging students to resent a particular race, he said.
“It’s just like the old South, and it’s long past time that we prohibited it,” Horne said.
Brewer’s signature on the bill Tuesday comes less than a month after she signed the nation’s toughest crackdown on illegal immigration — a move that ignited international backlash amid charges the measure would encourage racial profiling of Hispanics. The governor has said profiling will not be tolerated.
The measure signed Tuesday prohibits classes that advocate ethnic solidarity, that are designed primarily for students of a particular race or that promote resentment toward a certain ethnic group.
The Tucson Unified School District program offers specialized courses in African-American, Mexican-American and Native-American studies that focus on history and literature and include information about the influence of a particular ethnic group.
For example, in the Mexican-American Studies program, an American history course explores the role of Hispanics in the Vietnam War, and a literature course emphasizes Latino authors.
Horne, a Republican running for attorney general, said the program promotes “ethnic chauvinism” and racial resentment toward whites while segregating students by race. He’s been trying to restrict it ever since he learned that Hispanic civil rights activist Dolores Huerta told students in 2006 that “Republicans hate Latinos.”
District officials said the program doesn’t promote resentment, and they believe it would comply with the new law.
The measure doesn’t prohibit classes that teach about the history of a particular ethnic group, as long as the course is open to all students and doesn’t promote ethnic solidarity or resentment.
About 1,500 students at six high schools are enrolled in the Tucson district’s program. Elementary and middle school students also are exposed to the ethnic studies curriculum. The district is 56 percent Hispanic, with nearly 31,000 Latino students.
Sean Arce, director of the district’s Mexican-American Studies program, said last month that students perform better in school if they see in the curriculum people who look like them.
“It’s a highly engaging program that we have, and it’s unfortunate that the state Legislature would go so far as to censor these classes,” he said.
Six UN human rights experts released a statement earlier Tuesday saying all people have the right to learn about their own cultural and linguistic heritage, they said.
Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman didn’t directly address the UN criticism, but said Brewer supports the bill’s goal.
“The governor believes … public school students should be taught to treat and value each other as individuals and not be taught to resent or hate other races or classes of people,” Senseman said.
Arce could not immediately be reached after Brewer signed the bill late Tuesday.