- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 22, 2005

NEW YORK — Budget gridlock at the United Nations, driven by a U.S. threat to withhold its dues unless the world body embarks on a series of reforms sought by Washington, gave way yesterday to a Christmas compromise that would pay the bills for another six months.

The deal, proposed by the United States and other large financial contributors, would allow the General Assembly to adopt a budget in time for a holiday recess.

“It’s getting a fair reading,” said U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton, who spent most of yesterday briefing the five permanent members of the Security Council, key European and African delegations, and others on the plan.

The plan would cap the U.N. Secretariat’s spending authority at $900 million in lieu of a two-year budget, enough to last until the summer.

In addition to the United States, the spending cap is endorsed by Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The five nations together fund about half of the regular U.N. budget. The organization had sought $3.6 billion to operate for the next two years.

The United States had refused because the world body has failed to enact a series of financial reforms — an effort made more urgent by recent disclosures that Saddam Hussein had used a U.N. oil-for-food program to receive bribes and pay kickbacks amounting to billions of dollars.

Some European governments said they consider the U.S.-backed proposal a feasible compromise to avoid a financial collapse, which could have occurred sometime next year had no agreement been reached.

Developing nations, which have more than 130 votes in the General Assembly and a deep suspicion of U.S. reform goals, have not yet weighed in.

Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya told reporters yesterday morning that developing nations still favored a two-year budget, but did not rule out the new plan.

Last month, Washington suggested a continuing resolution of three months or more to allow the organization to continue to function.

U.N. budget officials rejected that plan, noting that cash flow might not be enough to keep the organization operating because of late U.S. payments.

The United States funds about 23 percent of the regular U.N. budget.

The European Union, which is also a significant donor to U.N. activities, has opposed the Bush administration’s effort to link reforms and the 2006-07 budget. Its diplomats proposed a one-year continuing resolution instead.

Undersecretary-General for Management and Budget Christopher Burnham yesterday endorsed the six-month offer.

“It would certainly meet the cash flow needs of the United Nations while the General Assembly continues its consideration of governance reforms and other issues that are going to be divisive,” he told reporters.

It is not clear whether the 191-member General Assembly will accept the $900 million spending cap, but there is considerable pressure for them to pass a budget by tonight, when the organization is supposed to recess for two weeks.

Spokeswoman Pragati Pascale said General Assembly President Jan Eliasson of Sweden had tentatively scheduled a meeting of the General Assembly to accept a budget and that Mr. Eliasson is “quite firm about trying to reach the deadline.”

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