Annan Wins Clinton Vow to Pay U.N. Debt

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President Clinton yesterday pledged to cut a deal with Congress to pay off the $1.3 billion U.S. debt to the United Nations, prompting the new U.N. leader to commit to cost-cutting reforms at the New York-based world body.

"We cannot expect to lead through the United Nations unless we are prepared to pay our own way and to pay what we owe as they do what they should along the path of reform," Mr. Clinton said in a Roosevelt Room meeting with new U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. But acknowledging Congress' apprehension at paying the debt until the U.S.-sought reforms are in place, Mr. Clinton warned that "we won't be able to secure support in the Congress for paying the arrears unless they're convinced that reform is going forward."

Mr. Annan, of Ghana, jumped in with exactly what Mr. Clinton wanted to hear.

"What the United Nations wants is what the U.S. also wants - a reformed United Nations that is effective, efficient, leaner and relevant to the tasks that member states want to set for us," he said.

In unusually blunt language for the head of the diplomatic body, Mr. Annan added: "If we do not change, we may lose our relevance. . . . The world has changed, and we have to change, we have to adapt."

It was the first visit to the White House by the new U.N. leader, whose candidacy was promoted by Madeleine K. Albright in her capacity as U.N. ambassador.

Coincidentally, it came just minutes after Mrs. Albright was sworn in as the first female secretary of state. Mrs. Albright, who also becomes the highest-ranking woman in government, was confirmed by the Senate on a 99-0 vote Wednesday.

"I am very pleased," Mrs. Albright said. "The first visit here that the president is going to have after his inauguration is with the United Nations secretary-general. My first official act will be to meet with the president and the new secretary-general in a little while. And I think that is a very good sign of the support that the United States is going to give to the United Nations."

The 59-year-old Czech-born diplomat was flanked by her three daughters during the swearing-in ceremony.

"America is strong, our principles are ascendant, and our leadership both respected and welcome in most corners of the world. But if we are complacent or timid or unwilling to look beyond our borders, our citizens will not prosper, and the framework of American leadership and the foundation of American security we have built could crumble with 21st-century speed," said Mrs. …