- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2000

Longtime United Nations critic Sen. Jesse Helms beamed warmly Thursday as he hosted the 15-member U.N. Security Council on an unprecedented tour of Capitol Hill and urged his wary guests to reform their body.

"Welcome to the heart of democracy," Mr. Helms said as he greeted the U.N. members in the ornate Old Senate Chamber at the Capitol. "We must start to understand each other and to know each other."

Following up on Mr. Helms' ice-breaking trip to the U.N. headquarters in New York in January, Thursday's reciprocal visit by the international guests was mostly a triumph of show over substance. They received a guided tour of the Capitol and sipped California chardonnay over lunch in a high-ceilinged Senate banquet room.

But tensions still showed. Mr. Helms, sponsor of a bill that would authorize payment of $819 million in U.S. dues to the United Nations only after the body achieves certain reforms, reminded the visitors in his opening remarks that the Senate is "co-equal" with the president in crafting foreign policy.

"I know it has been suggested to you that the president alone speaks for foreign affairs," said Mr. Helms, referring to comments by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright. "Not in the United States."

He noted that the Senate has the power to ratify or reject treaties and to fund foreign operations, and he added, "No ambassador can represent the United States abroad without the Senate's approval."

And later at a roundtable meeting with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on which Mr. Helms serves as chairman, some Security Council members criticized the U.N. reform bill.

Ambassador Arnold Peter van Walsum of the Netherlands even suggested that the United States is essentially blackmailing the United Nations because the world body knows it can't succeed without America's cooperation.

"We are not persuaded by your arguments but by our enlightened self-interest," Mr. van Walsum told the Foreign Relations Committee.

Ambassador Jeremy Quentin Greenstock of Britain asked why other nations should pay their U.N. dues if the United States places conditions on its annual assessment.

"Is the United States prepared to invest in a United Nations that will not realize its full potential without that investment?" Mr. Greenstock asked.

The Security Council also took some heat from Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, for the cost and wisdom of various U.N. peacekeeping operations.

"You're heavily involved in Bosnia and Kosovo," Mr. Warner said. "Don't take on more than you can do, and do effectively."

But Ambassador Alain Dejammet of France disagreed and seemed to put no conditions on U.N. peacekeeping when he countered, "Is it morally possible to say 'no' to populations which are desperately in need of help?"

Mr. Dejammet also disputed the contention that some U.N.-member nations are not paying their fair share for peacekeeping operations.

"The Europeans are doing their part of the job," Mr. Dejammet said. "The European Union countries will put over $8 billion in Kosovo [over two years]. We are doing our part."

The Security Council members also met with Mrs. Albright and Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering at the State Department, and dined Thursday night with Mrs. Albright.

Mr. Helms, for his part, was the picture of graciousness for the daylong event, evoking the adage that a person catches more flies with honey than with vinegar. He clasped hands warmly with each member of the Security Council upon his arrival and frequently referred to individuals as "my friend."

The outspoken defender of America's sovereignty showed none of the bite of his appearance before the U.N. General Assembly in January, when he scolded the body for its "lack of gratitude" to the United States.

"The American people will never accept the claims of the United Nations to be the 'sole source of legitimacy on the use of force' in the world," Mr. Helms said at the time.

Thursday, Mr. Helms told the Security Council he wanted "to repay your hospitality."

"Together, we are making history," he said. "I hope we can continue to do so."

The reform bill, sponsored by Mr. Helms and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the committee's ranking Democrat, would reduce the U.S. share of the U.N. peacekeeping budget from 31 percent to 25 percent and lower its share of the regular budget from 25 percent to 20 percent.

The proposal would require the United Nations to establish Inspector General offices to probe waste, fraud and abuse in its three largest specialized agencies the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Labor Organization. Among other requirements, it would phase out obsolete or ineffective U.N. programs.

The United States' ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke, told senators Thursday that 80 percent of those reforms have already been instituted.

"All of the ambassadors in this room … have told me that reform is desirable," Mr. Holbrooke said. "We're trying, and we're making progress."

Individually, however, the Security Council members said they were reluctant to discuss the reforms in detail because the subject is not in their jurisdiction.

"The Security Council is not competent on that issue," Mr. van Walsum said.

The Dutch envoy said the discussions are nevertheless useful.

"The ice was broken in New York, definitely," Mr. van Walsum said. "I cannot yet predict what the second stage will be."

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