White House, Congress Seek Plan to Pay off U.N. Debt
Barber, Ben, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Congress could gain a bigger role in deciding when the United States would participate in U.N. peacekeeping missions under a three-way "grand bargain" among the White House, Congress and the United Nations being worked out to pay America's debt to the world body.
The peacekeeping provision is just one of the issues being considered in the talks between the White House and Congress, under which the Clinton administration would press for U.N. reforms in exchange for congressional authorization to pay off more than $1 billion in back debts.
Sources said the negotiations are moving very slowly, in part because there is little sense of urgency on the part of the Republican-dominated Congress.
"While detailed discussions are still taking place, we are not aware of any major breakthrough at this point," a House Appropriations Comitteee spokesman said. "There are no ongoing discussions other than background staff discussions."
An administration official, however, insisted that "we are talking with Congress" on a "grand bargain" to commit the United Nations to reforms.
"We are working with the House now and so far received a sympathetic hearing and believe there are grounds for a possible success," he said. "We feel the best way to get reform is to commit to pay and get reform. . . .
"We are prepared to involve Congress more directly in peacekeeping," he added.
Congress has complained that U.S. diplomats at the United Nations have voted without Congressional approval to launch costly peacekeeping operations that the United States must support with money, troops and equipment.
So far it is not clear whether the the administration is prepared to give Congress a veto power over future peacekeeping missions or will merely commit itself to give it a consultative role.
"We are also working with Congress directly on a discussion on what kind of U.N. reforms would yield what kind of congressional commitment on funding - both past and future," said the U.S. official.
Critics have long felt the U.N. bureaucracy is inefficient, riddled with patronage and unresponsive to the taxpayers of member nations. That distrust has grown since the failure of peacekeeping missions in Somalia and Bosnia, with members of Congress especially wary of any attempt at nation building.
Under these circumstances, Congress failed to vote enough money to cover the assessed dues to the United Nations this year. President Clinton cited that as one of his reasons for vetoing, before Christmas, the appropriations bill covering the State, Justice and Commerce departments.
U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright also raised the issue recently during a meeting with reporters and editors at The Washington Times.
She said: "We cannot make the U.N. do what needs to be done if every time I go to a meeting everybody says, `Yeah, sure Madeleine, go right ahead, but where's your money? …