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UN chief ready to meet US senators looking to cut funds over settlement resolution

Some US lawmakers have accused UN of anti-Semitism over Security Council resolution condemning illegal Israeli settlements
Senator Lindsey Graham, left, talks with Senator Ted Cruz on Thursday (Reuters)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is prepared to meet with US lawmakers, as some push to cut funding to the world body over a Security Council resolution that condemned illegal Israeli settlements, a UN spokeswoman said on Friday.

The United States abstained from the vote on 23 December, allowing the 15-member Security Council to adopt a resolution with 14 votes in favour. Israel and President-elect Donald Trump had called for Washington to wield its veto.

On Thursday, Republican Senators Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham introduced legislation to cut UN funding until the president certifies that the Security Council has repealed the resolution. However, the legislation stands little chance of advancing in Congress, where it would need Democrats' support, and even some Republicans consider the move to be too extreme.

"The secretary-general very much welcomes an opportunity to discuss any issues with US lawmakers," UN spokeswoman Eri Kaneko said. "We're always eager and available to meet with US lawmakers as needed."

She said the United Nations would closely monitor the progress of the US legislation.

In an interview with MSNBC on Thursday, Graham accused the UN of becoming anti-Semitic.

“I don’t think it’s a good investment for the American taxpayer to give money to an organisation that condemns the only democracy in the Mideast,” Graham said.

Cruz accused President Obama of betraying Israel.

“The Security Council’s resolution is only the latest example of the UN’s long history of obsessive hostility towards Israel and we must not let this shameful action stand,” he said in a statement.

“Congress must hold the UN accountable and use our leverage as its largest contributor to push for the repeal of this resolution, making it clear to the world that Congress stands unequivocally against efforts to undermine Israel.”

The United States is the largest contributor to the United Nations, paying 22 percent of the $5.4bn core UN budget and 28 percent of the $7.9bn UN peacekeeping budget.

Last month’s resolution calls on Israel to halt settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, which most of world powers view as being in violation of international law.

While the Obama administration has signed the largest military aid package in history to Israel, it allowed the resolution to pass after Israel continued settlement expansion despite repeated condemnations by Washington.

Guterres spoke with Trump earlier this month after the president-elect disparaged the world body on Twitter. The United Nations described the conversation as "a very positive discussion on US/UN relations."

During his Senate confirmation hearing this week, Trump's secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson spoke repeatedly about working with the United Nations on a variety of initiatives.