Clinton vows to pay back U.S. dues

By Sonya Ross Associated Press Published:

Clinton was addressing the opening session of the 52nd General Assembly today after meeting with Secretary General Kofi Annan, who crafted reforms designed to make the United Nations more efficient and financially stable.

On Sunday night, Clinton urged U.N. members at a private reception to support Annan's reforms. "The U.N. is needed more than ever before," he said. He met briefly with Presidents Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Milan Kucan of Slovenia and Fabian Alarcony of Ecuador.

Aides seemed buoyant about the reception Clinton would receive today from the 185 U.N. member states, some of whom see Annan's reforms as mandated by the United States in order to secure U.S. political support for the funding on which the United Nations depends heavily.

"He'll talk, of course, about the arrears issue, which we hope we're on the way to settling, given the work we've done in our Congress," White House press secretary Mike McCurry said.

By year's end, Congress is expected to authorize about $900 million for the United Nations, provided the organization does not expand beyond current levels and agrees to put in a separate fund an additional $400 million that the United Nations claims it is owed but the United States has contested.

U.S. officials say more than half of the contested arrears are for peacekeeping activities, and make up less than 7 percent of what the United States contributed to U.N.-assessed peacekeeping throughout the 1990s.

Clinton committed in February to paying the overdue monies, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said last week that agreement was near on "a grand bargain" that would limit the U.S. contribution for U.N. peacekeeping operations to 25 percent and the U.S. share of the U.N. budget to 20 percent.

The deal would reduce U.N. dependence on the United States and more evenly distribute the financial burden among prosperous nations.

Albright acknowledged that the agreement "is not yet in hand," but she said she saw no major obstacles to block it. "We will grasp it when everyone concerned acknowledges a basic and undeniable fact: the United States needs the United Nations, and the United Nations needs the United States," she said.

U.N. reforms are expected to dominate the two-week General Assembly session that begins today. In a departure from tradition, Annan will open the debate with what may become a personal appeal for his reform plan.

The plan, much of which requires approval by U.N. members, calls for

staff reductions and consolidation of various U.N. operations. It would

abolish the U.N. Department of Humanitarian Affairs and cut overhead

costs by one-third, devoting those savings to development

projects.

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