Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Bush administration warned Congress yesterday to drop a threat to withhold dues to the United Nations as a way to spur reform of the world body, saying the tactic would prove counterproductive.

The dues threat is the centerpiece of a wide-ranging U.N. overhaul bill that the House of Representatives began debating yesterday afternoon.

The bill — co-sponsored by House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican — would hold up to half of the U.S. annual payment to the world body if more than three dozen administrative and management reforms are not adopted.

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns called the provision “unacceptable.”

“It would diminish our effectiveness and not allow us to play the leading role that we need to play on reform,” he said.

The administration stopped short of a veto threat on a bill that faces uncertain prospects, but the White House echoed Mr. Burns, releasing a list of objections to the Hyde bill.

The United States is the largest single contributor to the United Nations, paying nearly a quarter of the world body’s $2 billion regular operating budget and 27 percent of its peacekeeping costs.

Supporters of the Hyde bill argued on the House floor yesterday that the dues threat was the only way to get the United Nations’ attention in the wake of scandals such as the Iraq oil-for-food program and abuses by U.N. peacekeeping troops.

“Yes, this is radical surgery, but sometimes it is the only way to save the patient,” Mr. Hyde said.

Mr. Burns said the administration supported many of the administrative and management reforms in the House bill, despite opposing the dues provision.

Mr. Burns and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday officially endorsed Japan’s bid to be a permanent member of the Security Council, although without the veto enjoyed by five other permanent members — the United States, China, France, Russia and Britain.

Washington could support a second, unnamed permanent member, Miss Rice said, but warned that politicking over Security Council slots should not get in the way of more fundamental reforms.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has been seeking a consensus for his own reform package in time for a September summit of world leaders in New York.

Mr. Annan told reporters in New York that he found U.S. interest in U.N. reform “encouraging,” but said it would be better for Washington to work with other member nations.

“You know, this is an organization of member states, large and small. And the way we do business here is to discuss and come to an understanding — a broad agreement — and then move forward,” Mr. Annan said.

An alternative to the Hyde bill, authored by Rep. Tom Lantos, California Democrat, would let Miss Rice decide whether to withhold the U.S. dues payment. The alternative narrowly failed in committee and will be offered as an amendment again during the House debate expected to conclude today.

Betsy Pisik in New York contributed to this report.

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