U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, briefs press at the White House.

When U.S. President Barack Obama came to power, he announced a "new era of engagement" at the United Nations. He appointed his longtime friend and foreign policy adviser Susan Rice to be his ambassador to the world body. He also raised her post to cabinet level, as some previous Democratic presidents have done, and made her a member of the powerful National Security Council

In an August 2009 speech at New York University, Rice outlined the Obama's administration's new approach to the United Nations, an organization that was often criticized and occasionally ridiculed by members of the administration of former President George W. Bush. She said that from now on Washington would do away with the "condescension and contempt" that she said had crept into U.S. government attitudes toward the international community. 

"We have seen the costs of disengagement," Rice told an audience of students, academics, diplomats and policy makers. "We have paid the price of stiff-arming the U.N. and spurning our international partners. The United States will lead in the 21st century -- not with hubris, not by hectoring, but through patient diplomacy."

Relations between the United States and the United Nations have never been easy. For decades there have been the occasional calls from the political right to pull out of the organization or banish its headquarters from U.S. territory. Relations reached a low point in 2003, the year of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan branded the war an illegal act by the Bush administration.