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UN's Ban Resists US Call for More Help In Iraq

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is signaling a warming trend in the world body's relationship with the United States. Those ties were sometimes frosty under Mr. Ban's predecessor, Kofi Annan. But as VOA's correspondent Peter Heinlein reports, Mr. Ban is resisting President Bush's call for greater U.N. involvement in Iraq.

The secretary-general returned from an overnight trip to Washington expressing satisfaction with his meetings with President Bush and Congressional leaders. He said he had emphasized better ties between the world body and the country that provides roughly a quarter of its operating budget.

"What I stressed during meeting with President Bush and all Congressional leaders is that while there was a time when relationship between the United Nations and the U.S. was not easy, but it is time now to look for better days between the United Nations and the U.S. and I'm quite confident that we will see better days and mutually cooperative relationship," said Ban Ki-Moon.

But Mr. Ban said those 'better days' do not yet extend to greater U.N. involvement in Iraq. The world body currently has about 100 employees in and around Baghdad, protected by a force of 200 guards. The secretary-general said President Bush had asked for more U.N. support during their meeting Tuesday, but said the organization's involvement is limited by security concerns.

"I told President Bush that since UN's presence and operation in Iraq is largely constrained by the situation on the ground, I mean the security concerns, but we will try to continue to participate and increase our role in Iraq," he said. "The United Nations has been and will continue whenever, and whever we can to increase our presence, but that will be largely constrained by security concerns."

Mr. Ban said he asked President Bush and Congressional leaders to lift a U.S. spending cap on contributions to U.N. peacekeeping operations. The world body assesses Washington's share of the $4.7- billion global peacekeeping budget at 26.7 percent. But Congress has set a cap of 25 percent.

The secretary-general says the difference is hampering U.N. peacekeeping efforts.

"There is a shortage of two percentage points shortfall which will result in, annually, $150 million or $200 million shortage of American contribution which will, if it is accumulated, create difficulty and constrain in smoothly carrying out peacekeeping operations," noted Ban Ki-Moon.

As he returned to headquarters Wednesday, the secretary-general was asked to explain why he had referred to President Bush as a "great leader" during his Washington visit. In reply, Mr. Ban said he wondered why the question was being asked. He said "in diplomacy, it is appropriate to address a head of state with due respect". He added "I hope you understand these diplomatic practices".