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Helms: U.S. will make massive dues payment to U.N.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- North Carolina Republican Sen. Jesse Helms said Tuesday that the United States would soon release some $582 million to the United Nations, as the U.S. moves to incrementally make good on nearly $1 billion in back dues to the world body.

Sen. Jesse Helms  

The payment would be the second mandated by the so-called Helms-Biden Act, a 1999 law that set a number of conditions for reform of the U.N.'s top-heavy bureaucratic system before the U.S. would release its total amount of arrearages -- estimated to be close to $1 billion.

The law was drafted by Helms, the once and future chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and that panel's ranking member, democratic Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware. Chief among the law's provisions: a reduction in the United States' yearly contributions to the U.N.'s general operating budget, and a decrease in the amount of money the U.S. must provide for international peacekeeping operations.

Biden currently holds the panel's chair, while Democrats enjoy a short-lived majority in the Senate. Helms will take the chair back after the inauguration of President-elect George W. Bush and Vice President-elect Dick Cheney on the 20th of this month.

This year's payment -- $475 million for the general budget, and $107 million for peacekeeping -- will soon be released by the U.S., after technical changes are made to the law, Helms said Tuesday. The changes are needed because the full U.N. has not agreed to reductions originally sought by the law, but has set in motion a series of events that will lead to payment levels the U.S. can live with.

A first payment of $100 million was made in 2000.

Helms said the money would be released as the Foreign Relations Committee met Tuesday to debrief outgoing U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Richard Holbrooke, whom many have credited for shepherding a massive reform program at the U.N. during his short, 17-month tenure.

Richard Holbrooke  

Holbrooke said most short-term goals have been met, but was apologetic that the one unmet goal of the Helms-Biden Act, a reduction in the U.S. donations to peacekeeping operations to 25 percent of the full budget, would not be achieved until 2004. The act called for such a reduction by 2001.

Nonetheless, Helms opted to make the payment.

"We are releasing the biggest payment of money, even though the U.N. has missed the 25 percent target. I am prepared to support a technical change in the law so the $582 million will be released," Helms said.

Holbrooke said the full U.N. membership had agreed to drop the scheduled U.S. peacekeeping donation from 31.5 percent this year to 27.5 percent, a rate that would be further reduced to 25 percent by 2004.

"This was a difficult process," Holbrooke said. "We had to reach an agreement just to talk about it. Now, the peacekeeping budget has been reduced for the first time in history."

In addition, the U.S. contribution to the U.N.'s general budget has been reduced from 25 to 22 percent, representing the first reduction in U.S. payments to the general fund in 28 years, when George Bush, former president and father of the president-elect, was the U.N. ambassador.

"This was the longest time in the U.N.'s history without a reduction," Holbrooke said. "Now, that period of time is over."

To make up the difference, Holbrooke testified, 29 countries accepted increases in their regular dues ranging from 50 to 500 percent.

Sen. Joe Biden  

"The U.S. now sees savings immediately of $100 million," Holbrooke said. The figure rises to $170 billion in the next two years, he added.

That sort of savings is exactly what congressional Republicans have sought from the U.N. since they took control of the House and Senate in late 1994. U.N. reform was a contentious issue in the yearly budgeting process prior to the enactment of Helms-Biden, with Republicans regularly slowing down appropriations for a number of international efforts, and refusing to sign off on dues payments until the U.N agreed to reforms.

Helms, Biden and other members of the committee praised Holbrooke on Tuesday for working over less than a year and a half to secure most of those reforms. Among them:

* New management reforms, including an adoption by the General Assembly of "results-based" budgeting; implementation of a code of conduct; a new personnel evaluation system; and a human resources reform process,

* Improvement of the peacekeeping process, with successful missions mounted in East Timor, Kosovo and Southern Lebanon, and a mission about to launch to oversee the armistice signed by Ethiopia and Eritrea,

* A new U.S. and U.N. emphasis on Africa.

* A new U.N. emphasis on the worldwide AIDS epidemic.

With money now flowing into the world body, Holbrooke said the U.S. has retained its vote in the General Assembly -- which it nearly lost -- and regained its seat on the Budget Committee.

A third payment of arrears, amounting to $244 million, is scheduled for next year.

With the payments, Holbrooke said, the U.S. has greatly improved its international standing. "For all its warts and flaws, the U.N. greatly serves our national interests," Holbrooke said.


Tuesday, January 9, 2001



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