House Passes Bill to Withhold Some U.N. Dues

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

New York Times

June 17, 2005

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House voted Friday to issue an ultimatum to the United Nations: reform or lose U.S. financial support. Lawmakers also made clear to the White House that its more diplomatic approach wouldn't do.

Led by Republicans, the House voted 221-184 for a bill that would withhold one half of assessed U.S. dues, currently around $440 million a year, if the U.N. doesn't accomplish nearly four dozen steps to improve its accountability and root out corruption.

Failure to comply would also result in U.S. refusal to support expanded and new peacekeeping missions.

''History shows that when Congress stands tough, when it says that if you don't reform we are not going to pay, then change occurs,'' said House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., author of the legislation.

The Bush administration, while applauding the House for pressing for changes at the U.N., said the automatic withholding of payments could ''detract from and undermine our efforts'' to work with U.N. members to improve the organization.

The House rejected, on a 216-190 vote, an alternative offered by Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., that would have made similar demands for change but leave it to the secretary of state to decide whether to withhold up to 50 percent of payments.

The Senate has no immediate plans to take up the bill and its chances of becoming law are uncertain. But it was clear that the frustrations of House Republicans, who voted overwhelmingly for the Hyde bill, outweighed the urgings of the administration to reconsider the legislation.

''Far from promoting justice and respect for international law, the United Nations has become one of the world's greatest apologists for tyranny and terror,'' said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. ''The U.N.'s corruption is so breathtaking in its scope as to be almost universal.''

Over two days of debate, speakers slammed the U.N. for what they said was its wasteful bureaucracy, its anti-America, anti-Israel biases, its seating of tyrannical governments on the U.N. Commission on Human Rights and scandals involving the sexual misconduct of peacekeepers and alleged corruption in the oil-for-food program for Iraq.

The House approved some two dozen amendments, all offered by Republicans, that pinpointed further ways to improve the U.N. Among them were directions to suspend member states engaged in crimes against humanity, waive immunity for U.N. officials in connection with the oil-for-food program and make Iran ineligible to receive nuclear material from International Atomic Energy Agency members until it is in full compliance with the IAEA.

Democrats, and their few Republican allies, said there was no dispute over the need for U.N. reform, but argued that the Hyde approach was heavy-handed. ''I can't believe that when our men and women are fighting in Iraq, that we would move forward with legislation like this when we need to draw countries together,'' said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., who cosponsored the Lantos alternative.

Eight former U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations, including Madeleine Albright and Jeane Kirkpatrick, also weighed in, telling lawmakers in a letter this week that withholding of dues would ''create resentment, build animosity and actually strengthen opponents of reform.''

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was concerned that the bill could threaten his own overhaul plan, which he hopes world leaders will adopt during a summit in September, his spokesman Fred Eckhard said. ''He believes that U.S. engagement and leadership in this process is very important but does not feel that withholding dues is a productive route to achieving reform,'' Eckhard said.

The Hyde bill, with amendments, lists 46 changes sought. They include cutting the public information budget by 20 percent, establishing an independent oversight board and an ethics office and denying countries that violate human rights from serving on human rights commissions.

The secretary of state would have to certify that 32 of the 46 changes had been met by September 2007, and all 46 by the next year, to avoid a withdrawal of 50 percent of assessed dues.

U.S.-assessed dues account for about 22 percent of the U.N.'s $2 billion annual general budget.

The financial penalties would not apply to the U.N.'s voluntarily funded programs, which include UNICEF and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

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On the Net:

Information on Rep. Hyde's bill, H.R. 2745, can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov/

House International Relations Committee: http://wwwc.house.gov/international--relations/