Former senator discusses U.S. relationship with United Nations and global warming

The president of the United Nations Foundation said the U.N.’s budget decisions and climate change are the most important issues to address during a speech Wednesday in the Elliott School.

More than 50 people gathered to hear Timothy Wirth, a former U.S. senator and representative from Colorado, in an Elliott School-sponsored event titled “The U.S.-U.N. Relationship: A Golden Opportunity.”

Wirth’s charity, the United Nations Foundation, works to bridge public and private partnerships to aid some of the world’s most pressing problems. The foundation also works to increase support for the United Nations with advocacy and public outreach, according to its Web site. Wirth, who also serves as president of the Better World Fund, has also led the U.N. Foundation since media-mogul Ted Turner started it in 1998.

Wirth’s speech laid out an agenda for U.S. and U.N. action dealing with some of today’s international issues. The agenda included increasing U.S. logistical support for peacekeeping, internal reforms within the United Nations and addressing the crisis in Darfur.

Wirth approached the global climate change issue with particular expertise, having focused on the issue during his years in the Senate. He said climate change is the “most fascinating overarching issue” of our time, citing its effect on social, economic and political issues.

“With all of the attention that former Vice President Al Gore … has brought to the discussion about environmental concerns, this visit is somewhat timely,” said Menachem Wecker, assistant director of public affairs at the Elliott School. He added that Gore will be speaking at the Law School March 18.

Wirth challenged critics of the United Nations’ ability to handle important issues such as climate change and public health. He said events such as the oil-for-food scandal in Iraq are blown out of proportion and unfairly give the United Nations a bad reputation.

“It isn’t perfect; no bureaucracy is,” he said. Wirth said the United Nations now has more legitimacy and a greater presence throughout the world. He said U.N. peacekeeping forces are now second only to the U.S., with 18 Security Council-sanctioned missions globally. He added that the American perception of the United Nations is changing.

“Americans like the United Nations, but they also think the United Nations can do better,” Wirth said. He added that Congress is now more positive about the future of U.S.-U.N. relations because of greater U.N. efficiency, pointing to the association’s handling of the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia as an example.

“The United States would have done well to have the United Nations handling Katrina, instead of the mess we had,” Wirth said. The former senator said the mood in Congress is different and more optimistic about the United Nations since the latest round of elections last fall. He said Republicans are now able to show public support for the United Nations because of this different mood.

Wirth also expressed a hope that more American citizens decide to work at the United Nations to further the chance of a positive relationship between the U.S. and United Nations. He specifically asked that GW students consider the association as a possible career choice.

“I hope here, coming out of the Elliott School, many of you will think of the United Nations as you think about your future.”

Wecker said he believes Wirth’s speech comes at a time when interest is high.

“The discussion about how much the United States should cooperate with the global community to seek solutions to complicated issues like terrorism, proliferation, climate change and poverty continues to dominate the media,” Wecker said.

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