10 March 1998
(UN SecGen seeking support for agreement with Iraq) (1030) By Judy Aita USIA United Nations Correspondent United Nations -- The repayment of the United States' massive debt to the United Nations and the situation with Iraq constitute the "two-part agenda" for Secretary General Kofi Annan's meeting with President Clinton and senior members of the Clinton Administration March 11-12, a UN spokesman said. Annan is scheduled to meet with President Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen, and National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. The Secretary General will be accompanied by Deputy UN Secretary General Louise Frechette, UN Undersecretary General for Administration and Management Joseph Connor, and John Ruggie, special adviser on reform issues. "Iraq is very much on (Annan's) mind" and the Washington visit is "part of a pattern of visits he will be making to the five permanent members (of the Security Council) to shore up their support for the memorandum of understanding," UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said. In addition, the Secretary General "can't go to Washington without talking finances. That's really the major item on the US-UN common agenda," the spokesman said. US Ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson said that "the objective is going to be to renew a longstanding friendship, to continue working together as we have on the arrears issue and on Iraq." Richardson, who will also participate in some of the meetings, told journalists March 10 that Annan will return to Washington in April to meet with members of Congress on the arrears issue. The United States owes the United Nations more than $1,704 million. Of that, $670.9 million is for the regular budget; $1,004 million for peacekeeping; and $29.6 million is for the international tribunals. The United States is the major debtor to the United Nations, accounting for 79 percent of the outstanding money owed to the world organization for the regular budget and 60 percent of the peacekeeping arrears. At a press briefing March 10 Connor said that UN cash flow situation is worsening every year and "we're hanging on by our fingernails." He will be meeting with UN member states to alert them that "we are in a very tight spot at this moment," he added. The UN "doesn't have that much cash on hand and hasn't made a deal in what needs to be paid in arrears," Connor said. While other countries have been paying an average of 99 percent of what they owe the UN for both the regular budget and peacekeeping, the United States has averaged only 90 percent, he noted. Therefore, "we will always have a negative cash flow" unless the US pays its arrears. "We've got to break those two aspects or we're never going to get out of this financial straitjacket that we're in," he said. Connor said that 100 member states are have paid all their financial obligations to the UN for this year and previous years, however, that is "overshadowed by the major contributor (the United States) being the concentrated portion of the monies that are owed to us. Those are big, big percentages and unless those are broken, what the other member states do is not as significant...in absolute dollars." The United States has notified the UN that it expects to make a payment of about $125 million later this month for current dues and peacekeeping. In 1997 the Clinton Administration and Congress worked out a deal that would have paid a major portion of the then-$1,000 million US debt. It would have paid $100 million right away and the remainder up to a total of $819 million at the end of three years conditioned on the UN meeting a series of reform benchmarks. However, while the United Nations undertook major reforms in 1997, in November the US House of Representatives and Senate both failed to pass the legislation that would have authorized the payments. Both houses of Congress voted against the bill because it was tied to anti-abortion restrictions on funding for international population assistance, often referred to as "Mexico City policy" that is in a document adopted at a UN population conference in 1980. The abortion issue is unrelated to UN administration and management. Richardson said that the Clinton Administration is "working very intensively with the Congress to...find a way to separate the arrears issue from the abortion matter." Saying that he expected the problem eventually will be resolved, Richardson added that "the Senate will soon be taking supplemental appropriation (legislation). We're encouraged by that, but it's going to be a long arduous battle again." On Iraq, Richardson said that "the Clinton Administration feels the Secretary General's trip was a good one and we're hopeful in the days ahead when it's tested...that it will be implemented effectively." Undertaking a special diplomatic mission in February in an attempt to avert military strikes on Iraq for its failure to cooperate with UN weapons inspectors, Annan worked out a "memorandum of understanding" with the Iraqi President that states Iraq's agreement to allow weapons inspectors "immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access" to all sites and called for the special procedures for investigating the presidential sites. The special procedures have been drawn up and the UN expects to begin visiting the presidential sites in about two weeks. In the meantime, inspections of other sites Iraq declared as "sensitive" and were the subject of controversy in the past have been completed to the UN's satisfaction in the past few days. Richardson said that "so far we are pleased with the results" on the weapons inspections. Richardson also said that the "US view has been very clear -- that we do not need to go to the Security Council in the event of taking military action" if Baghdad does not continue to cooperate with the UN. "No decision has been made on military action and the Annan-Iraq agreement so far has been working well so I don't anticipate that will be a major topic of discussion" during Annan's Washington visit, the US Ambassador said.