Annan Urges Patience from U.S. as U.N. Forges Gradual Overhaul: Budget Will Show Changes, He Vows

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U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday cautioned Congress to be patient in its drive for financial reform, saying change "has to be managed - and managed by all those with stakes in it."

The U.N. leader, who promised "big changes" will become evident with the release of his biennial budget in a few weeks, said organizational innovation must not be rushed.

In a wide-ranging interview with reporters and editors at The Washington Times, Mr. Annan reminded critics that reconfiguring an organization as large and complicated as the United Nations should be a gradual, carefully managed process.

"The benchmarks have to be realistic, have to be achievable, have to be related to what that organization is doing," said the secretary-general, adding that Congress' apparent insistence on absolute numerical cuts would be "unwise." He also said Congress must "have some sensitivity for the sovereignty and the ranks of the other member states."

Change, the secretary-general said, is well under way. In his first seven weeks in office, Mr. Annan has:

* Ordered paperwork to be reduced by 25 percent.

* Appointed a $1-a-year executive to coordinate reform efforts through his office.

* Streamlined communications between his office and the heads of agencies and departments.

* Simplified rules and personnel procedures.

The biennial budget for 1998 and 1999 will show a decrease after two years of zero growth, Mr. Annan said. He expects to bring his budget to the 185-member General Assembly in March - about the time the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is to release a set of benchmarks spelling out its conditions for paying the U.S. debt to the United Nations.

The U.S. intention to set conditions on paying its $1 billion debt "is angering friends and foes alike," Mr. Annan said. Although 80 nations are in arrears, he said, "for most member states, payment of U.N. dues is a treaty obligation; it's not charity."

Mr. Annan will unveil his blueprint for reform in July, including specific recommendations for the General Assembly and a timeline for their completion. He declined to reveal the specifics but indicated that portions of the sprawling bureaucracy will be restructured, with positions eliminated and agencies or activities consolidated.

Redefining the world body's strengths and priorities and channeling its resources in response will make many of the changes possible.

"In July, the reform will focus on those strategic issues . …