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US threatens to cut UNRWA funding unless Palestinians engage in peace talks

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley warns that Washington may cease funding agency that helps Palestinian refugees
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks at UN headquarters in New York (Reuters)

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said that President Donald Trump’s administration might halt funding the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) – the UN body tasked with helping Palestinian refugees – until the Palestinians agree to engage in peace talks with Israel again.

"[Trump] doesn't want to give any additional funding until the Palestinians agree to come back to the negotiation table, and what we saw with the resolution was not helpful to the situation," Haley said at the United Nations on Tuesday.

"We're trying to move for a peace process, but if that doesn't happen, the president is not going to continue to fund that situation," she added.

Trump added more fuel to the fire on Twitter by saying that the US pays "hundreds of millions dollars a year" to the Palestinians and that Jerusalem, "the toughest part of the negotiation," is "off the table".

We're trying to move for a peace process, but if that doesn't happen, the president is not going to continue to fund that situation

- Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to the UN

Trump abruptly reversed decades of US policy in December when he recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital, generating outrage from Palestinians and the Arab world and concern among Washington's Western allies.

He also plans to move the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

The move caused international furore and led to a UN Security Council draft resolution that condemned the move, which was vetoed by Haley.

A UN General Assembly resolution quickly followed, which was passed overwhelmingly.

This isn’t the first time the Trump administration has threatened to cut off funding following US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

In late December, Trump threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that voted in favour of the UN resolution calling for the United States to withdraw its decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

"They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars, and then they vote against us. Well, we're watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We'll save a lot. We don't care," Trump told reporters at the White House.

Haley, in a letter to dozens of UN states last month, warned that Trump had asked her to "report back on those countries who voted against us".

At the UN on Tuesday, she also praised the courage of Iranian demonstrators and said protests across the country were spontaneous, not driven by outside forces.

After she read out social media posts written by Iranians in support of the protests, Haley dismissed Iranian leaders' contention that the Islamic Republic's enemies designed the protests.

"We all know that's complete nonsense," she said. "The demonstrations are completely spontaneous. They are virtually in every city in Iran. This is the precise picture of a long oppressed people's rising up against their dictators."

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