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UN: Security Council And U.S. Officials Discuss Reform

The 15 representatives of the UN Security Council will visit Washington today to meet the legislative body that decides on a sizable portion of the UN budget. A main issue is U.S. debt to the world body and, ultimately, how much funding will continue to be made available for extensive peacekeeping operations like those in Kosovo. UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

United Nations, 30 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The UN Security Council visits Washington today for a series of meetings with the U.S. foreign policy establishment, including lawmakers with approval authority over U.S. payments to the UN.

The visit includes meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is a former ambassador to the UN, as well as U.S. national security advisers. But the most significant meeting will be a two-hour session with members of two powerful committees of the U.S. Senate -- the Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees.

Those discussions will center on reform at the United Nations and on UN peacekeeping. The U.S. Congress has focused on both issues in considering whether to approve U.S. funding for the United Nations.

The chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Senator John Warner, has called on the United Nations to press for a resolution to problems in Kosovo and Bosnia before pursuing peacekeeping missions elsewhere. And the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Jesse Helms, has been a leading critic of the United Nations, attaching conditions for payment of the U.S. debt to the United Nations. That figure is now $1.7 billion.

Helms spoke before the council in January, saying the United Nations needs to cut its spending and be careful of exceeding its authority in international affairs. But Helms also expressed a hope for cooperation between the United States and the world body. It was Helms, along with Senator Joseph Biden, who invited the Security Council to Washington.

The trip is an important opportunity for Council members to meet with a legislative body that votes on funds amounting to one-quarter of the UN's budget.

Steven Dimoff is an expert on U.S.-UN relations at the United Nations Association of the United States of America, a foreign policy institute focused on UN affairs. Dimoff tells RFE/RL that the U.S. Congress plays a big role in determining matters such as U.S. involvement in UN peacekeeping operations.

"I don't think that most member states -- particularly those serving on the Security Council -- may understand the extent to which the Congress is involved in decision making on U.S.-UN relations. The fact is that Congress has been playing a very active role in the United States' relationship with the UN for many years."

Dimoff says there is a prevalent view in the U.S. Congress that the United States needs to make the United Nations work more effectively. But he says Congress has not discussed often enough what the U.S. goals are at the United Nations. Dimoff says today's meeting will provide a good opportunity to discuss the goals of both the United States and the United Nations in an open forum.

He says the commitment of U.S. resources to peacekeeping operations such as in Kosovo or East Timor are sure to be a major topic of discussion.

"This is a very important time for the Security Council to come to Washington because Congress is not at all convinced that the U.S. ought to be involved in peacekeeping to the extent it currently is."

Peacekeeping is one of the areas singled out by the U.S. Congress for funding cuts in a piece of legislation passed last year. The bill says part of the U.S. debt to the United Nations cannot be paid until U.S. regular dues are lowered from 22 percent from 25 percent of the UN budget. It says U.S. peacekeeping expenses must be lowered from 30 percent to 25 percent of the UN budget.

U.S. officials are currently negotiating with other member states on the question of a general restructuring of dues. European states and Japan would likely have to pay higher dues under a restructuring.

Dimoff, of UNA-USA, says the United States needs to consider that it faces a decline in stature at the United Nations if it does end up paying smaller dues.

"We can't deny that at the moment when we reduce our obligations that our ability to control personnel decisions and to, dictate if you will, or try to mandate certain changes will decrease. There's no question, and I question the extent to which Congress understands this."

Security Council members, for their part, are looking forward to providing their perspective on the functioning of the United Nations. Russian Ambassador Sergei Lavrov told Reuters yesterday he would use the trip as an opportunity to present his views of how the United Nations could operate more efficiently. British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said he hoped to step up dialogue between the United Nations and U.S. government because the world body was undervalued by the American people.

Other ambassadors due to make the visit today come from France, China, Ukraine, Canada, the Netherlands, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Mali, Namibia, Jamaica, Argentina, and Tunisia.