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Annan urges Congress not to punish U.N. for rights vote



UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Wednesday urged U.S. lawmakers not to try to punish the United Nations by cutting off dues payments because it lost seats on two committees.

Congress was poised to hold up $244 million in back U.N. dues because the U.S. lost seats on the world body's human rights and anti-drug committees last week.

House International Relations Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Illinois, and ranking Democrat Rep. Tom Lantos of California are expected to sponsor an amendment to the State Department's spending authorization bill. The amendment would put a hold on the final payment the U.S. owes the U.N. in back dues.

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The vote is expected to come Thursday or when the House returns to session on Tuesday, aides said.

Annan told CNN that the anti-U.S. vote was taken by the 54-nation Economic and Social Council, not among all 189 member states of the U.N.

"To extend their frustration beyond that and punish the entire organization would be wrong, and I think it would be counterproductive," Annan said.

"I'm confident that next year they will be able to get onto the commission and this situation will be corrected," Annan added. "I think they should work towards next year rather than wanting to punish the membership at large."

U.S. Congress votes on U.N. dues

The U.S. House votes Thursday on whether to hold up $244 million in back dues to the United Nations because the U.S. lost seats on the world body's human rights and anti-drug committees last week.

Diplomats and analysts say a possible reasons for last week's votes in the U.N. include:

  • A reaction against unilateral U.S. moves on issues such as missile defense and global climate change;

  • U.S. refusal to join agreements establishing a permanent war crimes tribunal and banning anti-personnel mines;

  • Continued back dues owed to the United Nations by the U.S. But U.S. supporters of withholding money to the U.N. say:

  • Nations with poor human-rights records remain on the U.N. human rights panel -- such as Sudan, where slavery is still practiced. The U.S. also cites communist states Cuba and China.

Both the Bush administration and the head of the United Nations oppose a congressional vote to withhold U.N. dues money.

"I think to extend the frustration beyond that and punish the entire membership will be wrong and I think would be counterproductive," said U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The Bush administration, though angered by the U.N. committee votes, also opposes the move.

"We don't think that linking our obligations and payments to the United Nations to the outcome of that particular vote is a good idea," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Wednesday.

The United States had counted on allies to help it keep its seat on the U.N. Human Rights Commission, but Washington lost its seat Thursday in a secret ballot. The same day, the United States was voted off a U.N. counter-narcotics commission.

"We worked very hard to win election to both positions," said acting U.N. Ambassador James Cunningham. "There's been a lot of commentary in the press in recent days about the result, and I don't want to go into that except to say that we're committed to pursue our efforts in the U.N. system."

Critics of the Bush administration, as well as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have portrayed the votes as a reaction against unilateral U.S. moves on issues such as missile defense and global climate change.

Others suggested the U.S. refusal to join agreements establishing a permanent war crimes tribunal and banning anti-personnel mines and its back U.N. dues contributed to the decision.

U.S. officials were particularly angry that nations with poor human rights records remained on the human rights panel -- such as Sudan, where slavery is still practiced, and communist states Cuba and China. The U.S. has sponsored resolutions critical of those countries in the past.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, on Tuesday called the votes "grotesquely incomprehensible."

Annan praised the United States for its efforts on human rights.

"Without the U.S. and the role of Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, we probably would not have had the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," he said. Roosevelt was the U.S. representative on the Commission when it was founded in 1947.

United Nations Producer Ronni Berke contributed to this report



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RELATED SITES:
United States Mission to the United Nations
Office of the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights
Committee on International Relations

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