- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 27, 2007

Show me the money

Nearly seven years after Ambassador Richard C. Holbrook negotiated a compromise to pay off most of the U.S. arrears to the United Nations and reduce the U.S. share of its expenses, Washington is running up a $677 million shortfall to peacekeeping operations, according to the world body.

Most of that money is from long-ago disagreements, but nearly $200 million stems from a congressional decision to cap the U.S. share of peacekeeping at 25 percent — rather than the 27 percent at which it is charged — according to the pro-U.N. Better World Fund.

In a unique move for a presidential hopeful, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, last week visited the United Nations and promised to balance the books.

“I’m going to attempt to lift the cap,” Mr. Biden said before he introduced a bill on Thursday to do just that and pay off $113 million of the $677 million the peacekeeping department says it is owed.

The United Nations has been charging the United States at a rate of 26 percent to 27 percent for the past half-dozen years, based on its share of world gross domestic product.

Ted Turner’s Better World Fund (BWF) has started an online petition to pay the backlog and lift the cap. It has racked up about 26,000 signatures and support from 40 private organizations, BWF says.

“The U.S. government is sitting on the Security Council, has veto rights and as a privileged member of the council it can determine whether U.N. peacekeeping can move forward” with a mission, said Deborah Derrick, executive director of the BWF. “It is hugely inconsistent for the government to say yes in New York and no in Washington.”

The Bush administration has requested $1.8 billion for peacekeeping in 2008, but is likely to receive congressional authorization for only $1.2 billion, according to the Washington-based BWF. Some of that money can be made up from supplemental appropriations, but that still leaves a gap.

The United States also owes about $450 million in historic “contested arrears” money for missions or U.N. projects that run counter to U.S. laws or smack of boondoggle. The Holbrooke deal omitted mention of that money, a creative but standard sleight of diplomatic hand to allow both sides to agree on other matters.

That money is unlikely to be paid any time soon. Nor will the Bush administration be able to shift the payment of U.N. assessments to another fiscal year — a situation that causes friction with member states and results in most U.S. money arriving in late autumn, rather than January.

In 1999, Mr. Biden worked with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, to broker a deal that would pay existing arrears and reduce U.S. payments to the regular and peacekeeping budgets.

New GA president

Former Macedonian Foreign Minister Srgjan Kerim has been selected to serve as the next president of the U.N. General Assembly, starting in September.

Mr. Kerim’s country is officially listed in U.N. publications as the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia — FYROM — because of an intractable dispute with Greece, which has a neighboring province with the same name.

A former U.N. ambassador, Mr. Kerim has most recently been working as a media executive, according to his biography.

He’ll need all the slickness and diplomacy and patience in his reservoir as the head of the 62nd session of the 192-member world body: Among the issues on his agenda are climate change, Security Council expansion, revitalizing the General Assembly, and monitoring the reliably fractious discussions over budgets and mandates.

All of these issues have been tangled up in the global tumbleweed known as “political will.” Mr. Kerim vowed to reporters to do his best, but noted “neither the president nor the secretary-general has a magic wand to move things along.”

Betsy Pisik may be reached via e-mail at bpisik@washingtontimes.com.

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