- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 10, 2001

Sen. Jesse Helms yesterday endorsed a partial payment of $585 million in back dues to the United Nations, citing the world body's fulfillment of many but not all reforms mandated by Congress in 1999.
"On the basis of what was achieved, I'm prepared to support a technical change in that law to permit the so-called year-two payment, that is to say $585 million, to be released," said Mr. Helms, North Carolina Republican, at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Mr. Helms' statement came in response to a deal crafted by Richard C. Holbrooke, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to reduce the U.S. assessment for general U.N. dues from 25 percent to 22 percent and the separate peacekeeping assessment from 31 percent to 27 percent.
Legislation sponsored two years ago by Mr. Helms, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Deleware, the committee's ranking Democrat, required that the United Nations lower the U.S. peacekeeping contribution to 25 percent.
"Let me be clear," Mr. Helms said yesterday. "I don't concede the principle that the United States is at all obligated to pay more than 25 percent of the peacekeeping budget of the United Nations. But I do believe that we must acknowledge the important progress that has been made at the U.N., and the Congress should respond to it."
The United States paid the United Nations $100 million last year but was withholding payment of the second tranche of $585 million to see if the world body would meet U.S. requirements.
Mr. Holbrooke made his final appearance before the committee yesterday as ambassador to the United Nations to report that "almost all" of the reforms that the United States had demanded had been approved.
For 17 months he has been working to cajole some would say browbeat a reluctant United Nations to reform itself and lower the amount of dues required of the United States.
Both sides hammered out a deal Dec. 23 that fulfills most of what he set out to accomplish.
On Jan. 20, when President-elect George W. Bush is inaugurated, Mr. Holbrooke will join the Council on Foreign Relations, a public-policy think tank.
"We have met almost all of the critical benchmarks outlined by the Helms-Biden legislation. The U.N. is more streamlined, efficient and effective. We have helped to make its financing more fair and equitable," Mr. Holbrooke said. "I believe we can say 'Mission substantially accomplished.' "
Mr. Biden, temporary chairman of the committee until Mr. Bush's inauguration, said he was pleased with what Mr. Holbrooke accomplished.
"Many naysayers, both here in Washington and in New York, said 'It can't be done.' Well, he has done it," the Delaware senator said. "From what I've heard, it looks like we got almost everything we asked for."
The United States has been in a contentious battle with the United Nations for several years over back dues. The United States refused to pay some $1.3 billion the United Nations said it was owed unless the world body enacted a series of cost-saving reforms and cut the U.S. share of dues.
In 1999, Mr. Helms and Mr. Biden reached a compromise on legislation to pay $926 million in back dues, if the United Nations would reduce the regular U.S. assessment to 22 percent and the peacekeeping assessment to 25 percent.
Mr. Biden said the so-called "contested arrears" the difference between the $926 million the United States is willing to pay and the $1.3 billion the United Nations claims it is owed will "never be paid."
Yesterday, with the support of U.N. ambassadors from Korea, Japan, Argentina, Australia and South Africa, Mr. Holbrooke testified before the committee. He said the United Nations had hammered through dozens of U.S. reforms which will save U.S. taxpayers more than $100 million this year and up to $170 million in two years. Some 29 nations will be required to pay more in dues because of the deal.
At the end of the session, Mr. Helms had the entire committee stand and applaud Mr. Holbrooke.
Betsy Pisik, in New York, contributed to this report


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