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UN: Volcker, Bolton Testify About Reform Before U.S. Senate

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton (file photo) (epa) The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday heard testimony on United Nations reform from John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, and Paul Volcker, the chairman of the special panel that investigated the corruption scandal surrounding the UN's oil-for-food program in Iraq. The two men testified about their proposals for reforming the UN -- a process, they said, that would be long and difficult.

Washington, 19 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Senator Richard Lugar, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, opened the hearing yesterday by expressing cautious optimism about prospects for UN reform.

But another member of the panel, Senator Norm Coleman, said the UN may be incapable of reforming itself.

Volker, who headed the UN's investigation of the oil-for-food scandal, said reform is not impossible. What it will take, he said, is for those member states seeking change to convince other countries that the reforms are needed.

"There must be countries that feel deeply committed to the UN that have to realize that, if they are committed to the UN and supportive of the UN, they'd better support reform or they're not going to have an organization that's strong enough to do what they want it to do," Volcker said. "And that point just has to be made over and over again, and I would hope there is enough core support for that principle that something can be done."

Volcker noted that member states, including the United States, sometimes have expressed their dissatisfaction with the UN by withholding part or all of their dues. But he said for Washington to do so unilaterally would be the wrong strategy.

Instead, Volcker suggested that all member states demanding reform present a united front when putting pressure on the UN to reform. "The UN gets squeezed on the budget often because people don't have confidence in it -- in its administrative ability -- including, for some reason, the United States," Volcker said. "If you had more confidence, you would take a different budgetary posture. If you don't have confidence in the organization, it's going to get squeezed. And I would hope it got collectively squeezed rather than unilaterally squeezed. That would be my hope, and I think that's doable."

Ultimately, Volcker said, no other international organization can match the UN for integrity. But that integrity, he said, is meaningless if the world body is incompetent on an administrative level.

Volcker suggested that all member states demanding reform present a united front when putting pressure on the UN to reform.

In his testimony, Bolton said the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush will not back down on working for deep and broad reforms. "There are many aspects of reform that need to be undertaken, many steps that need to be made, and we're not going to be satisfied with a few," Bolton said. "We're not going to declare victory after a few cosmetic changes."

But Bolton was not specific, saying Washington's reform agenda is still evolving. Overall, he told the senators, Bush is interested in improving ethics at the UN and strengthening its audit office.

Bolton said his goal is to transform the UN into an efficient organization that won't waste its members' dues on corruptly managed programs like oil-for-food. But he said the effort will be long and difficult.

"This is going to take a sustained diplomatic campaign not just in New York [at UN headquarters] but in capitals to convince as broad a range of countries as we can that what we're seeking here is not a reform simply in the interest of U.S. budget priorities, but a reform that will strengthen the UN, make it more effective, accountable and transparent, and that that kind of organization -- as Chairman Volcker said -- that inspires trust will be given more responsibilities," Bolton said.

Much of the hearing was devoted to improving ethics and eliminating corruption at the UN. There was only brief mention of another major reform effort -- expanding the Security Council, which has been urged by many members.

At one point, Volcker was asked if the oil-for-food program might have been better managed if there had been a larger Security Council at the time. Volcker replied that his commission was not asked to study enlargement of the council.

Volcker noted, however, there were differences of opinion within the Security Council on how best to apply the oil-for-food program to Iraq. As a result, he said, the council was reluctant to give full administrative control of the program to the UN Secretariat.

This led to confusion over how the program should have been handled, Volcker said. But he concluded that it's anybody's guess whether a larger Security Council would have reduced the confusion.