Wednesday, May 16, 2001

Secretary of State Colin Powell yesterday predicted the United States will quickly win back the seat it lost on the U.N. human rights panel and urged Congress to drop plans to slash the U.S. dues payment to the international body if the seat is not restored.

“We lost a vote. It was a democratic vote. We don´t like the outcome,” Mr. Powell said. “We should win the next vote on our merit and the case we´ll make, and not because we´re holding a financial hammer over the heads of the members of that committee that did not vote for us this time.”

Appearing before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, Mr. Powell also faced unexpectedly sharp questioning about long-standing U.S. aid programs to Egypt and the Palestinians.

Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, citing recent Palestinian clashes with Israeli security forces and virulent anti-Semitic attacks in Egypt´s state press, said he did not view U.S. aid “as an entitlement.”

“It´s hard for me to see how either one of them in any visible way has tried to move the process forward,” he said.

Mr. Powell defended the programs as U.S. commitments that served the national interest “at a very delicate time in the region.”

The House today resumes work on an $8.2 billion foreign operations spending bill, six days after ignoring Mr. Powell´s pleas and voting to withhold some $224 million in U.N. dues payments next year to protest a secret vote ousting the United States from the U.N. Human Rights Commission for the first time since the panel´s founding in 1947.

Mr. Powell yesterday urged lawmakers to “keep that loss in perspective.”

The secretary said: “I also believe that we will get back on that commission, if that´s what we choose to do next year, and I think that´s what we should do next year.”

But the human rights vote stoked intense anger in Congress, especially when members learned that countries such as China, Cuba and Sudan were elected to the commission.

The House amendment, which was co-sponsored by International Relations Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, passed on a 252-165 vote and threatens to upset a delicate compromise allowing the U.S. government to pay nearly $1 billion in overdue assessments in exchange for U.N. reforms and a reduction in future U.S. payments for operating expenses and peacekeeping missions.

The U.S. government is to pay $582 million this year to the world body, but the House vote conditions next year´s payment on regaining the seat on the human rights panel.

The full Senate has not taken up the foreign operations appropriations bill. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, over the weekend said the House action was “the minimum” Congress should do, although he has not announced any Senate action yet.

On a separate issue, abortion opponents in the House have expressed confidence they have the votes to reinstate President Bush´s order banning U.S. aid to international groups that support abortion as a means of family planning or lobby other countries to ease abortion restrictions.

President Reagan first instituted the ban at the time of a 1984 Mexico City conference on population control, only to see President Clinton order the “Mexico City language” removed in 1993.

President Bush reimposed the ban, which opponents call a “gag rule” on family planning organizations. But the House International Relations Committee — considered more liberal than the Congress as a whole — voted to overturn the restrictions.

In his Senate testimony yesterday, Mr. Powell said the U.S. government still spends $400 million on family planning activities overseas.

Only a “rather small number” of organizations would be denied funding by Mr. Bush´s order, he said, and “we´re reasonably confident that they have been able to find alternative sources of funding.”

The House bill also contains an amendment by Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, that would cut U.S. aid to any country that supports efforts by the International Criminal Court, a proposed new U.N. affiliate, to put U.S. military personnel on trial.

The U.N. human rights vote has clearly sparked ill will between U.S. lawmakers and members of the world body.

European candidates Austria, Sweden, and France took the three slots traditionally reserved for Western powers, even though the U.S. diplomats believed they had obtained enough pre-vote commitments to guarantee a seat on the panel.

Thomas Hammarberg, the Swedish government´s special adviser on human rights, said during a visit to Beijing this week that the United States could not demand a seat simply as a matter of right.

“If (the vote) leads to a discussion about U.S. performance, that would be great, because they haven´t been at the vanguard on some human rights issues,” Mr. Hammarberg said.

Mr. Powell contended yesterday that the vote reflected resentment at how hard the United States pushed the human rights issue with such countries as China and Cuba over the years.

“We may have made a few people mad at us by the aggressive manner in which we pursue the human rights issue,” he said. “And if that´s what made people mad, well, they are going to stay mad, because we´re going to continue to point out human rights abuses.”

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