US threatens to withhold funds from UN unless it reforms

By Edward Alden and Holly Yeager in Washington
Published: June 9 2005 00:32 | Last updated: June 9 2005 00:32

Less than two years after finally paying its full dues to the United Nations, the US is again threatening to withhold payments from the world body unless theUN undertakes the important reforms sought by Washington.

A US congressional committee on Wednesday voted narrowly to approve legislation that would withhold half of its annual $500m contribution unless the UN streamlined its bureaucracy, barred countries that violated human rights from UN human rights bodies and created an independent oversight board and ethics office.

Henry Hyde, Republican chairman of the House international relations committee, said the bill was the only way to force the UN to make long-overdue reforms. “You can't have reform if you don't withhold dues.”

Mike Pence, a Republican member of the committee who leads a group of conservatives in the House, warned: “The power of the purse is the power of the American people.”

The committee approved the measure 25-22 after rejecting a Democratic proposal that would have given the administration discretion on withholding payments.

The administration opposes the measure but has so far not made strong efforts to discourage the House action, say critics of the Hyde legislation.

While the Senate is not currently considering similar legislation, the House move could embolden Senate critics such as Norm Coleman, the Minnesota Republican who has led an investigation into the UN's role in the Iraq oil-for-food scandal.

In addition, the Senate is likely to act shortly to approve the nomination of John Bolton as US ambassador to the UN. In doing so it would send a harsh critic of the world body to New York, armed with growing congressional threats to punish the UN if reforms are not made.

The bill is set to move to the House floor next week, where it is likely to win approval. Tom DeLay, House Republican leader, linked the bill to the Bolton nomination. “What an incredible thing it would be if you had John Bolton negotiating these kinds of issues with the United Nations,” he said.

Mr DeLay added: “I think we're getting a two-fer if we can get this through the Senate as quickly as possible and John Bolton confirmed to be ambassador to the United Nations.”

The US was in arrears on its obligations to the UN for more than a decade until they were finally paid off in September 2003, helping the UN emerge from a long financial crisis.