- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2001

Lawmakers yesterday agreed to pay the United Nations $582 million in back dues and approved a trade pact with Jordan as Congress turned its attention to strengthening alliances on the eve of war.

Conservatives swallowed objections on both issues. House Majority Whip Tom DeLay dropped his effort to link the U.N. dues payment to a provision barring U.S. participation in the International Criminal Court.

And Republican senators approved the trade pact with Jordan over their concerns that it could affect U.S. labor and environmental standards.

The House approved the U.N. dues, a perennially contentious issue, by the necessary two-thirds majority on a simple voice vote. The action had been planned before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but lawmakers said it was even more critical now as President Bush seeks international cooperation to combat terrorists and states that harbor them.

"It is one of the most important foreign policy decisions Congress will make this year," said Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican. "The Cold War is over, but on Sept. 11 we saw in very plain terms that the world is a far more dangerous place. We must increasingly rely on the United Nations."

He said unpaid dues totaling $926 billion have been "a gigantic impediment to our diplomatic efforts."

The United States already has paid $100 million of the back dues, and the Senate in February approved the next installment of $582 million. The House was on its way to the same action in May when the U.N. Human Rights Commission booted the United States off the panel, raising a storm of protest in Congress.

Mr. DeLay responded with a provision that would prevent U.S. military personnel from ever being tried in the International Criminal Court. The Texas Republican wanted to link the measure to payment of the U.N. dues but was dissuaded by the White House. An aide said Mr. DeLay did not want to stand in the way of anything Mr. Bush wants to do in this crisis.

Under the agreement, the U.S. share of the U.N. general fund budget is to drop from 25 percent to 22 percent. The U.S. portion of the U.N. peacekeeping budget is also to be pared from about 32 percent to 25 percent over the next six years. A senior House Republican aide estimated the savings to the United States at $2 billion over 10 years.

The Senate approved on a voice vote the trade deal with Jordan, one of the strongest U.S. allies in the Middle East.

Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, dropped his objections to the pact because "we have a crisis in the world."

"The president wants his agreement to show Jordan our friendship," Mr. Gramm said. "We need Jordan's support in this war on terrorism."

Mr. Gramm said the deal contains "very serious" problems, including provisions that could find the United States in violation if it changes labor or environmental standards that put Jordan at a trade disadvantage. He said the United States is risking ceding its sovereignty.

"If it weren't for this crisis,… this trade agreement would never have become the law of the land," Mr. Gramm said.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said the pact "signals that the United States is not the enemy of the Arab and Muslim world."

Mr. Daschle said the trade deal "will only hasten our triumph" against terrorism.

President Clinton negotiated the trade agreement with Jordan last year, but its approval had been slowed by conservatives' concerns over the labor and environmental provisions. Jordan is not a major trading partner with the United States; last year commerce between the two nations totaled $386 million.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said he was encouraged by letters that the two nations exchanged in July stating that neither country intends to block trade over the labor and environmental provisions.

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