By Pascal Fletcher
MIAMI (Reuters) - President Barack Obama should say clearly and publicly the United States will use its veto on the U.N. Security Council to block any Palestinian bid to gain U.N. membership, a senior Republican lawmaker said on Wednesday.
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a conservative who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, made the call as Obama's administration made diplomatic moves to try to head off a Palestinian plan to gain statehood recognition at the U.N. General Assembly session that begins on September 19.
Washington fears the Palestinians' statehood initiative at the United Nations could further snarl flagging U.S. efforts to revive Middle East peace talks, which broke down last year following a dispute over Jewish settlements.
"I think President Obama should have come out clearly and said we will veto this," Ros-Lehtinen told Reuters in a telephone interview shortly after flying from Miami to Washington on Wednesday.
U.S. Middle East peace envoy David Hale met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday, but Palestinian leaders' irritation appeared to be rising over what they saw as American efforts to halt the statehood bid at the U.N.
Ros-Lehtinen said she felt that the Obama administration's diplomatic "full court press" was coming too late.
She urged the Democratic president to spell out the U.S. veto intention more clearly himself instead of relying on what she called "diplomatic nice speak."
U.S. officials have said Washington views the Palestinian push for statehood recognition at the U.N. as "misguided."
Anticipating a U.S. veto against full Palestinian U.N. membership, Palestinian officials have said they could also present a General Assembly resolution that would upgrade their standing from an "entity" to a "non-member state" -- the status held by the Vatican. This would require 129 votes.
To counter that, Ros-Lehtinen last week introduced legislation aiming to cut off U.S. funds for any U.N. organization that embraces an upgrade to the Palestinians' diplomatic status. The United States is the biggest contributor to the U.N. budget, paying about 22 percent of its core budget and 25 percent of its peacekeeping costs.
While acknowledging the Palestinians could obtain a majority of votes needed in the U.N. General Assembly for a status upgrade, Ros-Lehtinen insisted the United States oppose this, saying it was better to be "right than in the majority."
The Palestinians are seeking an independent state in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem -- territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.
The last round of peace talks, which lasted only a few weeks, broke down last October over the issue of Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)
(Corrects the day of travel to Wednesday from Monday in paragraph 4)