- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

No free U.S. loan

The United Nations has had two months to digest the Bush administration’s offer of a $1.2 billion low-interest loan for a major renovation of its New York headquarters, and it is underwhelmed.

A disappointed Secretary-General Kofi Annan recommended to member states that the United Nations continue to look for alternative sources of money, preferably the kind of interest-free loan everyone seems to have been expecting.

The European Union and India were among those voicing dismay that the interest would double the cost of the loan over 30 years.

“There was an understanding in the Fifth Committee that the United States’ offer would not be in the form of an interest-bearing loan,” said Irish envoy Margaret Stanley, on behalf of the European Union. The U.N. Fifth Committee handles the world body’s administrative and budgetary matters.

In his 2005 budget recommendation to Congress, President Bush offered the organization a 5.54 percent loan to underwrite the needed top-to-bottom renovation of the landmark, as well as a 30-story office building to be constructed nearby.

But at that rate of interest, the world body would end up paying $1.3 billion in interest over the 30-year life of the loan — a fact that has dismayed delegations that expected the host country to make an interest-free loan or even a gift.

“I hope the secretary-general will engage in consultations with the host government … to arrive at an acceptable funding arrangement,” said Wang Xinxia, counselor of the Permanent Mission of China to the United Nations, a sentiment that was echoed by many delegations.

“People are still working their way intellectually through the issue of what this will cost,” said Ambassador Patrick F. Kennedy, the U.S. representative for U.N. management and reform, who is responsible for explaining the parameters of the loan offer to member states.

One of Mr. Kennedy’s priorities is to convince delegations that Washington will not, in fact, be making money on the U.N. loan.

In fact, any loan will cost the United States, regardless of where it comes from. Washington will repay 22 percent of the principle and interest, consistent with its share of the U.N. operating budget.

“I hope they do find an interest-free loan,” Mr. Kennedy said. “But they won’t be getting it from us.”

Congress has yet to approve the $1.2 billion loan as part of the 2005 budget.

Blix Blitz

How hot is Hans Blix?

Hotter than the fallout from a clumsy nuclear test, maybe the hottest thing to rocket out of Sweden since ABBA.

The former U.N. inspector for weapons of mass destruction may not be very popular in Washington these days, but he’s Topic A on college campuses, in U.N. corridors and on the talk-show circuit.

It was a curious scene outside a U.N. meeting room last week, when hundreds of staffers lined up for more than an hour to have Mr. Blix autograph copies of his new book, “Disarming Iraq.” Many of them took a few moments with Mr. Blix to cheer him on and congratulate him for standing up to pressure from Washington and London.

Mr. Blix, who surely did not get many accolades over the past two years, soaked it up with a 2,000-kilowatt smile.

The signing was organized by the U.N. bookstore, which has been selling copies of “Disarming Iraq” since its release two weeks ago, and more than 300 copies were sold at the signing Tuesday.

Same-sex ‘U.N.ions’

The U.N. Secretariat sent officials from its legal and personnel departments to the increasingly combative Fifth Committee on Friday to reassert Mr. Annan’s decision to extend family benefits to homosexual couples whose unions have been recognized by their own governments.

Iran, speaking on behalf of the 56 Muslim nations, opposes the January ruling and has requested a committee vote on the matter — which the U.N. staff and some member states would prefer to avoid.

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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