The head of a powerful congressional committee has dropped a proposal to automatically withhold funds from the United Nations unless it accepts U.S.-backed reforms. A compromise would allow Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to decide whether dues should be withheld.
Republican Congressman Henry Hyde created a stir at the United Nations last year with a proposal for mandatory reductions in U.S. funding for the world body if it failed to enact reforms on everything from internal management to peacekeeping.
The United States is the biggest contributor to the U.N. budget. Washington pays 22 percent of the U.N.'s administrative costs, 27 percent of the peacekeeping tab, and a major share of several other U.N. functions.
Hyde is chairman of the powerful House International Relations Committee.
But the Hyde proposal stalled in the face of Senate opposition. Monday he came to U.N. headquarters to say he had accepted a competing proposal by the senior Democrat member of his committee, Congressman Tom Lantos.
With Lantos and several other committee members at his side, Hyde said the compromise would allow Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to decide whether the pace of reform was acceptable.
"Mr. Lantos has suggested that the decision be made by Secretary of State," said Henry Hyde. "I opposed that initially. I'm prepared to accept that, but I'm very anxious to get something that the Senators will smile upon and treat more hospitably, and perhaps we will get some legislation that will move us to real reform."
Congressman Hyde told reporters he thinks there is still widespread support for the concept of using the threat of withholding dues to demand real U.N. reform.
"I'm convinced that the only way to get attention is to hold back on some dues," he said. "That way you'll get reform. Otherwise, you get promises and no performance. I think it's just common sense. And there is a tremendous support for that concept. Mr. Lantos adopted it in his bill, the withholding of dues if certain reforms aren't made. Our difference was who made that determination."
Congressman Lantos said he believes the compromise will allow for quick action on the bill, which has been on hold in Congress since last June.
"We now have legislation which all of us in the House of Representatives can support," said Tom Lantos. "We will have to update this legislation for developments that have occurred since we last dealt with this issue. But with a united front we will expect our colleagues in the Senate to support this legislation."
During their visit, the congressional delegation met with Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has in the past expressed opposition to the idea of tying dues payments to reform. U.N. officials told the Hyde committee last year that the automatic withholding plan would hinder rather than help the cause of reform.
But U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said Monday Mr. Annan remains hopeful that, as he put it, "everyone, including those in the U.S. Congress, are satisfied that we're serious about actually achieving concrete reforms".