Negroponte On U.S. Joining U.N. Rights Council
GUY RAZ, host:
This week, the U.S. took up a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, the first time Washington has agreed to take part since that body was founded. Under the Bush administration, the U.S. had refused to join the council. Critics have long argued it's biased against Israel. That it condemns the Jewish state while ignoring human rights violators in countries like Sudan, Myanmar and Cuba. We called up the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Negroponte, who served under President Bush, to get his take on the decision to join. He told me it's better for the U.S. to be on the inside rather than simply to ignore the council.
Mr. JOHN NEGROPONTE (Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations): No matter how repugnant some of these organizations or behaviors might be, that we're probably better served in an international organization by participating than by not participating.
RAZ: Well, has the body changed?
Mr. NEGROPONTE: I think it's changed somewhat. I think the leadership, for example, the executive positions in the council, the officers are from countries that have good human rights records and have better democratic credentials. And I think it's probably a good idea that we come back and work from within.
RAZ: The Obama administration is clearly engaging with the U.N. in a much more serious way than the Bush administration did. Do you think that's a better approach?
Mr. NEGROPONTE: Well, I think that in the Bush administration there was perhaps, amongst - in some quarters, at least, not sufficient appreciation of the great value that the United Nations can be to U.S. interests. I particularly would cite peacekeeping; the role that U.N. peacekeeping operations played in Sierra Leone or in Liberia, for example, was really remarkable, helped restore order to very desperate situations. And if you want to look at it from a financial point of view, it cost us 26 cents on the dollar, in the sense that that's our assessment for peacekeeping operations and we didn't have to send U.S. troops. So sometimes I think Americans tend to underappreciate what it is that the United Nations can do to help advance our foreign policy and national security interests.
RAZ: Going back to the Human Rights Council for a moment, just this past week, the council just barely passed a resolution to keep human rights monitors in Darfur. And it's already withdrawn human rights monitors from places like Cuba and Belarus. Can the council really be taken seriously if, as some have argued, many of its decisions are simply political?
Mr. NEGROPONTE: Well, yeah, that - and what you just mentioned is disappointing. But they do have mandates for other countries of human rights interests, whether it's Somalia or Burundi or Myanmar. And I think we just have to keep making the case and working with others.
RAZ: But what can the United States do now that it has a seat on the council in terms of making it a more even-handed body?
Mr. NEGROPONTE: Personal diplomacy. I mean you got to get in there and jawbone. You got to work with the other delegations. You just got to keep these issues in front of them and which is, of course, something you can't do if you don't even have a seat at the table. So I would say put the seat at the table to the best possible use.
RAZ: John Negroponte is the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and the U.N., former director of National Intelligence and most recently, the deputy Secretary of State under the Bush administration.
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Ambassador Negroponte, thanks for joining us.
Mr. NEGROPONTE: Thank you. It was a pleasure.
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