A high-powered group of foreign policy figures from both parties are
urging President-elect Barack Obama to revitalize the U.S. relationship
with the United Nations as one of his early priorities on the
"The U.N. cannot succeed without strong U.S. leadership and
support," the group writes in an open letter to be published later this
week. "The next President has a unique opportunity to revitalize the
U.S.-U.N. relationship as a symbol of America's commitment to
constructive international cooperation. This investment will pay off
substantially by helping to enhance our standing internationally and
strengthen our ability to keep America safe and strong."
The group includes a bevy of the foreign policy establishment's
biggest names, including former defense secretaries Harold Brown and
William Perry, former secretaries of state Madeleine Albright and
Warren Christopher, and former national security advisers Brent
Scowcroft, Sandy Berger and Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Along with Scowcroft, other Republicans signing the letter include
former senators Howard Baker, Nancy Kassebaum Baker and Alan Simpson,
former New Jersey governors Thomas Kean and Christine Todd Whitman, and
former deputy secretary of state John Whitehead.
"Obama is a different face around the word, and the U.N. is the
right place for exactly the kind of multilateralism Obama is talking
about," said former Democratic senator Tim Wirth, president of the U.N.
Foundation, one of the organizers of the letter. The other group is the
Partnership for a Secure America, which is dedicated to trying to
foster bipartisan solutions to foreign policy challenges.
Bush administration has had a rocky relationship with the United
Nations, owing mostly to the decision to go to war in Iraq without
formal U.N. authorization, as well as the decision to appoint John
Bolton, a fierce critic of the U.N., as the U.S. ambassador there for a
time. While the relationship has improved in recent years, several of
the signatories to the letter said in interviews they wanted Obama to
make an early sign of commitment to the U.N. as way of signaling a new
era at the international body.
"We wanted to take the curse away that was introduced in part by the
last administration with the Bolton appointment and in part by some of
the attacks on the U.N.," said Thomas Pickering, a former senior State
Department official whose many ambassadorships included a stint at the
United Nations. "The U.N. can't succeed without the U.S. playing a
significant leadership role."
Bolton rejected the criticism from the letter-writers. "The U.S. did
play a leadership role at the U.N. -- look at the Security Council
resolutions imposing sanctions on North Korea, demanding that Iran
suspend its uranium enrichment program, creating a UN peacekeeping
force for Darfur, and putting Burma on the Council agenda for the first
time," he said. "What this report is really complaining about is that
we didn't worship at the U.N. altar while achieving these objectives."
The letter-writers have a range of suggestions for what the United
States ought to do under Obama, from paying debts to the U.N. on time
and obtaining a seat on the "faltering" U.N. Human Rights Council to
engaging more aggressively with the international body on issues like
climate change, development and non-proliferation.
Nancy Soderberg, who served at the United Nations as an ambassador
under the Clinton administration, said Obama will be naturally focused
on a raft of other issues, foreign and domestic, in his first few
months, but the rest of the world will be looking for U.S. leadership
on many of the issues typically handled by the U.N.
"The most important thing is an early sign of putting the U.N in the first tier of things," Soderberg said.