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U.S. Reportedly Withholding Funding For New UN Counterterrorism Office

Vladimir Voronkov (left), head of the United Nations Counterterrorism Office with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (center).

The United States is withholding $2 million in promised funding for the United Nations Counterterrorism Office in the latest move by the White House to push for reform of the world body, media reports say.

The funding cut was made over a decision by the UN counterterrorism chief, a former Russian diplomat, to close part of a conference the office is holding this week to nongovernmental interest groups, media quoted U.S. officials and UN diplomats as saying.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley in a statement on June 27 accused the office of politically motivated censorship for not inviting civil-society groups to high-level meetings at the two-day conference.

"There is no reasonable explanation for why the UN would seek to censor this conference, except that it caved to political pressure from a handful of nefarious countries with no credibility on countering terrorism -- like Russia, Syria, Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela -- and for which restricting access and blocking civil-society participation is the norm," Haley said.

She called the decision "an abuse of the UN's new Counterterrorism Office and a stain on the UN's record on transparency and civil-society inclusion."

When asked if the decision had anything to do with counterterrorism chief Vladimir Voronkov being Russian, a U.S. official told Reuters that "it matters" and that Voronkov had come under "tremendous pressure by his home country" on the matter.

Voronkov's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's government has been repeatedly denounced by Western countries for cracking down on civil-society groups.

The U.S. official said the United States and other countries had pushed Voronkov, who was appointed a year ago, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to let the groups fully participate in the conference, contending that they had valuable contributions to make.

The U.S. move to withhold funding from the year-old office is the latest salvo in President Donald Trump's campaign to reform the UN.

Trump has repeatedly complained that the United States and its close ally Israel are treated "unfairly" by the world body and has sought to use the large share of funding Washington provides as leverage to force change at the UN.

Washington also slashed its funding for the UN's Palestinian aid agency earlier this year.

And last week, the United States withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council over what it said was the body's bias against Israel and a lack of reform.

Two sessions at the counterterrorism conference's opening day on June 28 -- on combating foreign fighters and sharing information and expertise -- were scheduled to be closed to interest groups and media.

A senior UN official told Reuters that the reason for closing the sessions was "a lot of sensitive information" was expected to be "shared between the heads of counterterrorism agencies."

The U.S. official said Washington had downgraded its representation at the two-day conference, sending an acting deputy coordinator in the State Department's Bureau of Counterterrorism rather than a higher-level official.

Nearly 120 countries were slated to attend the conference, along with 100 civil-society groups, the UN said, with most of the delegations being led by high-level counterterrorism officials.

With reporting by dpa and Reuters