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UN: U.S. Senator Warns About Failure To Agree On Dues

  • Robert McMahon

A senior U.S. legislator has warned that a failure to reach agreement on a new level of U.S. dues at the United Nations could threaten relations between the two. UN peacekeeping could be hurt most by damaged relations. RFE/RL UN correspondent Robert McMahon looks at the last-minute efforts of the United States to reach an agreement on decreasing its UN dues and maintaining a commitment to the United Nations.

United Nations, 14 December 2000 (RFE/RL) -- A high-ranking member of the U.S. Senate, Joseph Biden, has told UN members that recent elections will not change the position of the U.S. Congress on the price of U.S. membership in the organization.

Biden told a UN Security Council session on Tuesday that the United States would not be able to participate fully in the organization if its membership does not agree to changes in assessing payments for the regular budget and for peacekeeping.

Biden says the debate over changing the scale of assessments comes at a crucial time, when members are discussing the sweeping changes to UN peacekeeping proposed by an independent expert panel. The proposals have been widely supported by Security Council members but will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to fully implement.

The U.S. senator said the United Nations' main role of ensuring peace and security was at stake.

"We cannot address development without peace and security. The financial and peacekeeping reforms now being discussed will go a long way to ensuring that we meet our commitment and, quite frankly, that my government meets its commitment."

Biden is the top-ranking Democrat on the U.S. Senate's powerful Foreign Relations Committee. He worked with the committee's chairman, Senator Jesse Helms, to write legislation that would provide for the United States to pay nearly $1 billion in UN dues in exchange for a reduction in the scale the United States must pay.

The legislation calls for the U.S. contribution to the UN administrative budget to decrease from 25 percent to 22 percent. It also calls for U.S. peacekeeping costs to decrease from 30 percent to 25 percent. But the legislation also says that the reduction in assessments should be retroactive. This has angered many UN members, who say the United States has acted unilaterally and violated its obligations.

Biden said he did not personally support linking U.S. payments to the attempt at assessment reduction. But he said it was important for UN members to understand the U.S. Congress was adhering closely to the Helms-Biden legislation. He said new members would be joining Congress following last month's elections but he stressed this would not change a general feeling about the need for reform at the United Nations.

"The financial burden of the United Nations must be shared and a handful of countries cannot be expected to go it alone. Together with my colleagues in the U.S. House and Senate, I am concerned that the reform efforts may fail. This would seriously jeopardize the UN's financial base and could destabilize the U.S.-UN relationship."

There are currently 15 UN peacekeeping operations, including those in Bosnia, Kosovo, Georgia, and Croatia's Prevlaka peninsula. Overall, they are expected to cost the United Nations more than $2 billion next year.

Britain's ambassador to the United Nations, Jeremy Greenstock, said it was important for the United States to remain engaged in the world body, especially in peacekeeping affairs.

He pointed to the important role the United States played in bringing peace to Bosnia, after serious setbacks, through brokering the Dayton Accords and contributing thousands of troops to an international peace force.

"I think the subject (of Bosnia) has illustrated how much can go wrong when the United States is playing separately from the international community and how much can go right when we're all playing together."

France's ambassador to the UN, Jean-David Levitte, had already said that European nations will not pay any more in dues to the UN. Yesterday, he repeated to Biden that -- as a group-- the 15 European Union nations had roughly the same gross national product as the United States, but had higher UN dues. However, Levitte also paid tribute to the large amount of voluntary contributions paid by the United States to the UN -- about $3.5 billion this year.

The French ambassador said an agreement on UN payments was possible if UN members demonstrated flexibility, a sentiment echoed by other Security Council members.

The UN General Assembly's finance committee has until next week (Dec. 22) to reach agreement on whether the U.S. demand on dues adjustments can be met.

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