Saturday, June 18, 2005

Hyde UN reform bill passes over White House objections

The Washington Times reports in its edition of Saturday, June 18, 2005 that the Hyde bill that would condition payment of part of US dues (half of basic dues) to the UN on fulfilment of a long list of UN reform conditions has passed the House. The White House had strongly objected, saying that it was better to leave such judgments in the hands of the Secretary of State. The full article is here:

"The House yesterday voted to withhold half of its dues from the United Nations unless it dramatically changes its bureaucracy, peacekeeping missions and the rules for its human rights organizations.

It marked the second time this week the House defied the White House on a key priority, following Wednesday's vote against renewing one part of the USA Patriot Act.

House Republicans led the way yesterday, despite a White House plea for leeway to conduct foreign affairs and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's request for flexibility in deciding whether the dues should be withheld.

"When it comes to sanctions against the United Nations for failing to reform, if you leave it to the discretion of the State Department, you're plowing in the sea," said Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican and chief sponsor of the bill. "Let's begin real reform of the United Nations -- a monumental task, a long road ahead -- let's begin it here and now, June 17, right in this room."

The vote of 221-184 reflected a discontent among American voters with the United Nations, which has been buffeted by a kickback scandal in the Iraqi oil-for-food program and embarrassments such as seating countries that violate human rights on its human rights commissions. The vote also was a rejection of what Mr. Hyde called "a mindset in the upper realms of diplomacy that worships at the altar of the United Nations."

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan criticized the bill, saying through a spokesman that with-holding dues is not "a productive route" to reform and could jeopardize his own proposals, expected to be discussed in September. But even those who voted against the bill yesterday -- most Democrats and a handful of Republicans -- endorsed the call for reforms and for withholding dues. Most of them supported an alternate version that allowed the secretary of state a waiver.

The bill lists 46 specific steps the U.N. must take, including: establishing an independent oversight board that can review all operations; prohibiting nations the U.N. has condemned for human rights abuses from serving on human rights bodies; and demanding major bureaucratic reforms. If the secretary of state cannot certify either that 32 conditions have been met by Sept. 31, 2007, or all 46 have been met by the next year, half of U.S. dues would be withheld.

The U.S. contribution this year will be $442 million, or about 22 percent of the United Nations' annual $2.05 billion budget. In addition, the United States this year will contribute about $2.5 billion to voluntary efforts like peacekeeping and popular programs with independent budgets, such as UNICEF and the World Food Program. Those would not be affected by the bill, though no new peacekeeping missions may be undetaken unless immediate reforms are put in place.

Rep. Tom Lantos, California Democrat and chief sponsor of the alternative legislation that failed yesterday, said some of the reform goals simply aren't achievable by the deadline. He also said the bill could prevent the United States from taking part in peacekeeping missions to prevent genocide.

And Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, said the majority's bill would be playing into the wishes of "evil minds" in the U.N. who want to see dues withheld because it gives them another reason to attack the United States.

But Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican and co-sponsor of the main bill, said this was the only way to restore Americans' faith in the United Nations. "This was never about bullying the U.N., this was never about trying to dismantle the U.N. The [bill] was about taking a tough love approach to restoring the credibility and integrity of the United Nations in the 21st century," he said.

The administration has strenuously opposed the bill but has not threatened a veto.

"The United States pays its dues," said Anne W. Patterson, acting ambassador to the United Nations, on Thursday.

There is no companion bill in the Senate right now, so House Republicans plan to attach the measure to the foreign relations authorization bill later this year as a way to force the Senate to address it.

Mr. Pence said public support can push the measure through. "The only folks we have on our side are the overwhelming majority of the American people who are hung up on the notion it's their money, and they should decide, not diplomats, how their tax dollars are spent," he said. "If the American people engage on this issue, the president will sign a U.N. reform act with teeth."

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