Washington, 30 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - U.S. Congressman Bill Richardson says the United States must pay its bills to the United Nations if it wants to maintain its leadership position in the organization.
Richardson is President Bill Clinton's nominee for the post of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. He made his comments Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The committee and the Republican-controlled Senate must approve Richardson's appointment to the U.N.
Even though Richardson's adamant insistence that the United States must honor its debt to the U.N. often clashed with the views of the Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina), Richardson is expected to get a speedy confirmation.
Money dominated much of the debate at the confirmation hearing.
Helms, a vociferous critic of the U.N., said the U.S. repayment of its $1.2 billion debt to the international organization would be made only if it were tied to concrete reforms at the organization.
Helms said he intends "to introduce legislation shortly that sets benchmarks for United Nations reform and that rewards reforms with a payment of U.S. arrears. As each of the benchmarks is met, money will be dispensed."
But Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-Maryland) said Richardson's ability to function at the U.N. would be severely hampered if the United States did not pay its debt. He called on the president to include a plan to clear up the debt in his budget.
The proposal infuriated Helms. He called it "a breach of good faith and a blatant effort to circumvent the committee" and said it would be "unwise for the President to undermine the new spirit of bipartisan cooperation" that's being advocated in Washington.
Helms' committee has significant influence over what goes into the budget for international spending.
Richardson said he hoped the committee would work with him and the White House to resolve the debt dispute. He told the committee the United States has a choice of sustaining its leadership at the U.N. or losing its voice.
He said without the U.N., the United States would "face the stark choice" of acting alone or doing nothing. He noted the United States saved a lot of money during the Gulf War because the cost of the operation was shared by the international community.
Richardson agreed reform is needed at the United Nations. He outlined a five-point plan, which he said would achieve much of what Helms wants. Richardson said he wants to:
Freeze the U.N. budget at its current level.
Reduce the number of people and organizations at the U.N.
Streamline the three, big, affiliated agencies -- the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Labor Organization and the World Health Organization.
Negotiate lower dues for the United States.
Make the Security Council more efficient.
Richardson told the committee he hoped that in four years he would be able to say that he helped to reform the United Nations while the United States has also repaid its debt.
His appearance before the committee was relatively brief, lasting just over two hours. Most of the Senators praised Richardson's nomination, saying the President could not have picked anyone else who would have been more qualified.
If Richardson is confirmed, he will replace Madeleine Albright in the post. Albright became the U.S. Secretary of State last week.
Richardson, a seven-term New Mexico Democrat, gained much admiration in recent years with his forays to rogue states all over the world. In a 10-day span last year, he won freedom for an American who was held prisoner in North Korea and for three international Red Cross workers who were detained in Sudan. Also last year, Richardson won freedom for three Cuban political prisoners during talks with President Fidel Castro.
As a result of his successful interventions, a group of members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote the Nobel Committee urging that this year's Nobel Peace Prize be given to Richardson.
"By awarding this most prestigious prize to Mr. Richardson, the Nobel Committee will be recognizing public servants worldwide who seek peace and goodwill for all people," the lawmakers said in the letter.
The letter was signed by 74 members of the House.
The Nobel Committee never announces candidates for its prizes -- just the final winners.
Richardson did not comment on the nomination. He said he just wanted to go to work at the United Nations as soon as possible. The committee may confirm Richardson as early as today.