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(photo credit: AP)
The US, Israel, Canada, Germany and a handful of other countries may have skipped this week's United Nations conference on racism in Geneva - but that doesn't mean they won't be paying for it.
The gathering, dubbed "Durban II," has cost $5.3 million, including preparatory conferences, spokesman Ramu Damodaran told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
About $1.6m. of that has come from direct donations from individual countries, but the lion's share - $3.7m. - was funded from the regular budget of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Damodaran said.
The US, which as the largest single contributor to the UN covers 22 percent of the UN's overall budget, has specifically withheld funding for the Durban conference from its UN dues payments. But because of the way the budget process works, individual nations have little or no control over how their dues are ultimately spent, experts said.
"It's more of a symbolic thing - there's no way to direct the withholding to whatever you're trying to do," said Brett Schaefer, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank in Washington.
"There's no way the US can prevent the UN from taking the money from elsewhere in the budget," Schaefer said.
The US, which walked out of the previous conference on racism held in South Africa in 2001 in protest of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic rhetoric, formally announced over the weekend it would not attend this week's gathering, which opened on Monday with a fiery anti-Israel speech from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that prompted a walkout by European delegates.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who has been an active sponsor of legislative efforts to withhold funding for the Durban II conference, called Wednesday for renewed efforts to ensure that US taxpayer dollars weren't being used to finance the conference.
"Many Americans are struggling to make ends meet - we must therefore ensure that we can justify our funding for international organizations and foreign affairs activities," Ros-Lehtinen said during a hearing in Washington.
Yet officials in the Obama administration - which is angling for a seat on the Human Rights Council - said they did not anticipate moves by the US to punish the UN financially for the spectacle of Ahmadinejad's speech.
"There was an attempt by the previous administration to deprive it of US funding, but the US is now running for a seat on the HRC - we're trying to do it from the inside out," a spokesman for the US mission to the UN told the Post.
UN officials did not release a complete list of direct donations to this week's conference, but UN Watch, an affiliate of the American Jewish Committee that is based in Geneva, reported on its blog that Russia had provided $600,000 for the gathering. The group claims Saudi Arabia gave $150,000, Kuwait $100,000, and the Palestinian Authority $1,700.
Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report.