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House threatens to withhold U.N. dues

From Phil Hirschkorn



United Nations
State Department
House of Representatives

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The House of Representatives has approved a measure that would withhold dues from the United Nations unless the world body adopts dozens of reforms.

The bill passed on Friday by a vote of 221 to 184 mostly along party lines in the Republican-controlled House.

A senator said he will introduce the measure in the Senate, where it must pass before going to the White House for the president's approval, but the Bush administration has signaled it does not support such threats.

The reform bill, sponsored by House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Illinois, seeks to have the United Nations adopt 39 reforms, and threatens, if the reforms are not adopted within two years, to withhold half of U.S. dues, which amount to roughly one-quarter of the United Nations' operating funds.

Hyde and his supporters argued the financial threat gives some teeth to the U.N. reform bill and asserts Congress' constitutional "power of the purse."

"Most informed people agree that the U.N. is in desperate need of reform," Hyde said during the House floor debate.

"This legislation brings to bear instruments of leverage sufficient to the task, the most important being tying the U.S. financial contribution to a series of readily understandable benchmarks."

The Hyde bill asks the United Nations to streamline its budget and programs with redundant missions, enhance its accountability by creating an independent oversight board and whistle-blower protection, and impose a uniform code of conduct for its peacekeeping forces.

The final bill also included an "oil-for-food" amendment from Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of half a dozen congressional panels probing the defunct humanitarian program in Iraq.

The Barton amendment would require an audit of the work being done by the U.N.-appointed investigative committee led by Paul Volcker to disclose its testimony, interviews, documents, correspondence, memoranda, books, papers, accounts, and records related to the program; information about the involvement of any U.N. employee, office or agency; and investigative practices used to support the findings in its final report, which is due this summer.

Unlike the congressional probers, only Volcker has had access to U.N. documents and staff, who have diplomatic immunity from congressional subpoenas.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has proposed his own extensive reform plan for the 191-nation organization and is seeking to build a consensus for change in time for the annual heads-of-state U.N. gathering in September.

In a written statement Friday, Annan spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the secretary-general "believes 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 and indeed that it could jeopardize the outcome of the September summit."

House Democrats such as Tom Lantos, the ranking minority member on the House International Relations Committee, criticized the Hyde bill as as "a guillotine on autopilot" directed at the United Nations. Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., said, "The take-it-or-leave-it approach does not help."

The State Department has described the threat to withhold dues as "objectionable."

It's wrong on principle. We are a founding member of the United Nations and it hurts our credibility," said a senior State Department official. "While we agree on ends, the disagreement is on means."

Sen. Norm Coleman, who also chairs a subcommittee investigating the oil-for-food program, said in a written statement late Friday that he intends to introduce a Senate version of the U.N. reform bill "to improve U.N. accountability and management."

"The U.S. pays 22 percent of the U.N.'s operating budget, the largest of any county, yet this should not be our only reason for pushing reform," Coleman said.

"At the end of day, we need a credible institution that has ability to lead an international response to global problems like nuclear proliferation, the horrifying spread of HIV-AIDS, economic and political rebuilding in war-torn regions, and worldwide poverty."

CNN State Department Correspondent Andrea Koppel, CNN's Evan Glass on Capitol Hill and Lauren Rivera at the U.N. contributed to this story.

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