Thursday, January 20, 2000

NEW YORK Today, the mountain comes to Mohammed.

Sen. Jesse Helms, the U.S. government’s most outspoken critic of the United Nations, arrives in New York for a two-day visit to the organization he has repeatedly described as a “power-hungry and dysfunctional organization.”

The North Carolina Republican is to address the Security Council this morning, and tomorrow will be joined by other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he chairs, for a field hearing on the United Nations.

The senator will also meet privately with Secretary-General Kofi Annan and greet, however briefly, more than 200 foreign diplomats and Secretariat officials.

It will be the first time any member of the U.S. Congress has addressed the Security Council, and comes just 10 days after a similarly historic address by Vice President Al Gore.

“Our hope is that the worst is behind us and that this symbolizes the universal desire on both sides to go forward and chart a better and stronger relationship than we’ve enjoyed in recent years,” said John Ruggie, Mr. Annan’s special adviser on U.S. relations and globalization issues.

Participants clearly hope the senator’s first visit since an informal dinner with former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali five years ago will serve a number of interlocking purposes.

For the permanent U.N. bureaucrats, it is a chance to make a pitch for more than $1 billion in U.S. arrears.

Mr. Helms and his Democratic colleague, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, co-authored a bill that may ultimately pay $926 million in U.S. arrears to the United Nations and other international organizations.

But the payments are tied to a score of conditions requiring the approval of the General Assembly, including a reduction in U.S. assessments and time limits on new programs.

If the visit goes well, the biggest winner may be U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the senator’s host and a short-lister for secretary of state if Mr. Gore becomes president. That job will require confirmation by Mr. Helms’ committee which already subjected Mr. Holbrooke to a bruising and long-delayed hearing on his nomination for the U.N. job.

Mr. Helms presumably hopes the visit will lead to better cooperation between his committee and the U.S. Mission at the United Nations.

The trip was designed to “further the connection between the Mission and [Capitol] Hill on our common agenda,” said Donald Hays, who oversees management and budgetary issues for the Mission and is largely coordinating Mr. Helms’ visit.

“This is a positive event in the relationship between parts of the [U.S.] government,” he said.

Finally, several foreign diplomats have indicated they would like to meet the feisty senator, who wrote in the September 1996 issue of “Foreign Affairs” that if the next secretary-general didn’t get busy on cost-cutting, he “could and should be the last.”

“I don’t know why he’s coming here,” said one Eastern European delegate, who described the Helms-Biden conditions as unacceptable. “But I’d like to have a look at him.”

U.S. officials say the senator has long wanted to visit the United Nations, but preferred to wait until after the Helms-Biden legislation had passed. Mr. Helms had initially wanted to address the 188-member General Assembly, but the U.N. Charter says only heads of state or their designees, such as foreign ministers or U.N. ambassadors, may take the podium.

“With Ambassador Holbrooke chairing the council this month, it all just worked out,” said an official at the U.S. Mission.

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