Chicago Tribune
September 23, 1997


BYLINE: By David S. Cloud

Turning up the pressure on Republicans to move ahead with two of his priorities, President Clinton on Monday urged Congress to begin soon the process of ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and paying the United States' back dues to the UN.

Clinton also called for the creation of a permanent international court by the end of the century to put accused war criminals on trial. The court would be the successor to the ad hoc tribunals created after conflicts such as Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda. The tribunals have been plagued by inadequate resources and uncertain support from the nations keeping the peace.

In an address to the United Nations General Assembly, Clinton pledged that he would press Congress to ensure payment of at least part of the roughly $1.5 billion debt that the U.S. owes the UN.

He also called for a "more equitable" allocation of dues by the world body so the U.S. is no longer saddled with paying a quarter of the regular UN budget.

While the UN bill is likely to pass Congress by the end of the year, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) is unlikely to schedule action any time soon on the treaty calling for a global ban on nuclear-weapons tests. U.S. approval requires ratification by the Senate.

An arms-control skeptic, Helms has doubts about the treaty, which would bar countries with nuclear arsenals, such as the U.S., from conducting underground tests of the weapons. Only simulated explosions using computers would be allowed, which the Department of Energy says is sufficient to ensure a working stockpile.

Helms, however, "is not convinced by the idea that you can use computer simulation to ensure safety and reliability, and he's not the only one," said Marc Thiessen, a Foreign Relations Committee aide.

Acknowledging that the unpaid U.S. dues "have brought the commitment of the United States to the United Nations into question," Clinton said: "We have the opportunity to put the questions of debts and dues behind us once and for all and to put the United Nations on a sounder financial footing for the future."

UN critics in Congress, particularly Helms, are demanding reforms by the world body before payment of the back dues. House and Senate negotiators are working on the final version of a bill that would require the General Assembly to meet specific conditions, including a phased-in reduction of future U.S. dues to 20 percent from 25 percent of the annual UN budget, in return for a partial payment of more than $800 million.

It remains unclear whether the United Nations will carry out reforms of sufficient scope to satisfy Helms and other congressional Republicans. Much of the burden falls on UN Ambassador Bill Richardson, who, along with Secretary General Kofi Annan, faces the task of persuading member states to approve the dues reduction and other changes the U.S. wants.

Many countries resent what they contend is blackmail by the U.S., and a senior UN official said the debate in coming months is likely to be bitter.

The announcement last week by billionaire Ted Turner that he intends to contribute $1 billion to the UN over the next 10 years has refocused a spotlight on the U.S. arrearages. Initially, Turner had been fascinated by the idea of paying off the U.S. debt, but when he discovered that was prohibited under the UN charter, he turned to the idea of a separate contribution.

While some UN officials voiced hope that Turner's generosity and his criticism of Congress for withholding back dues would cause Helms to moderate his demands, a spokesman for Helms, one of the most conservative lawmakers, dismissed the possibility, recalling what he regards as Turner's leftish politics.

"We don't take moral lectures from people who count among their close friends Fidel Castro," Thiessen said.

A senior administration official said the White House is hoping for committee action on the test-ban treaty this fall and a floor debate early next year. Thiessen said there is no room on the committee schedule to hold hearings on the treaty between now and next spring because Helms will be holding hearings on another administration priority: the addition of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to NATO.

Helms recently announced he would support expanding NATO, which also requires Senate approval.

Clinton signed the test-ban treaty last year along with the leaders of 145 other countries. Succeeding a partial test-ban treaty in place since the 1960s, it would prevent nations with nuclear warheads and nations that might be developing them from testing the weapons. It would be a key bulwark against nuclear proliferation, according to the White House.

In his speech to the General Assembly announcing that he was sending the treaty to the Senate for ratification, Clinton called it "the longest-sought, hardest-fought prize in the history of arms control."

"It will help prevent the nuclear powers from developing more advanced and more dangerous weapons," and "it will limit the possibilities for other states to acquire such devices."

The accord wouldn't take effect until ratified by 44 countries. So far, only four signatories have given their approval.

Of more immediate concern to the administration are the prospects for reform and streamlining of the UN bureaucracy. Annan made the need for reform the theme of his opening address to the delegates.

In a clear reference to the U.S., he called on all countries to pay their dues in full and without conditions to alleviate the bouts of near-bankruptcy that afflict the institution.

Much of Annan's message was intended for developing countries, whose numbers make them the key constituency in determining whether the UN moves forward on reform.

Annan is proposing a package of changes that streamlines the UN bureaucracy, reduces the budget and keeps staff at current levels. In return, he is offering developing countries more emphasis on development assistance.

"Let this be remembered as the reform General Assembly," Annan said. "Let it be remembered as the time when all of us joined forces . . . to revitalize the UN."

As an inducement to other nations to approve the reduction in U.S. dues, the U.S. is proposing to expand the 15-member Security Council to more than 20 members and is suggesting that three of the new seats be apportioned regionally, one each from Africa, South America and Asia.

In addition, Richardson has voiced support for adding Japan and Germany as permanent members of the council.