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Congress Republicans compromise on UN reform bill

Written by: Staff
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UNITED NATIONS, Mar 28 (Reuters) US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would have the final say on withholding half of US dues to the United Nations under a compromise plan that aims to overhaul the world body.

This compromise takes away the threat of an automatic deduction of US dues unless the United Nations makes a series of reforms, a key requirement of a House bill passed in June.

Rep. Henry Hyde, an Illinois Republican who led a congressional delegation to the United Nations, yesterday said he now agrees with members of the Senate and his House Democratic colleague Tom Lantos of California that this is the best course.

''I am very anxious to get something that the senators will smile upon and treat more hospitably and perhaps we can get some legislation that will move us toward real reform,'' said Hyde, who chairs the International Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives.

The delegation of seven congressmen had discussions with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton and representatives of a group of developing nations, who have been critical of U.S. actions at the world body.

The U.S. House passed a bill that would withhold half the U.S. dues starting in 2007 if the United Nations did not make some 40 reforms, including greater financial transparency, independent oversight and the creation of a new human rights body.

Lantos introduced a similar bill that would grant the secretary of state the discretion to withhold dues if changes were not made. In the Senate, Richard Lugar, the Indiana Republican who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, was known to be lukewarm to the Hyde bill.

Since the measure has already passed the House, congressional sources said a new bill would have to be drawn up giving Rice more power and reviewing the U.N. reform demands, some of which have already been adopted.

''There is serious resistance to the notion of withholding dues,'' Hyde said. ''The establishment doesn't like that. The State Department is unenthusiastic about it. But most people support it.'' But he said, ''I believe firmly after watching for years that the money is the way to go. That way you will get reform.

Otherwise you will get promises and no reform.'' The United States is charged for 22 percent of the U.N.

annual administrative budget of more than 1.8 billion dollar, excluding peacekeeping contributions and special agencies.

HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL Hyde and Lantos told reporters they supported the United States running for a seat in the U.N. Human Rights Council when elections are held in May. Bolton has not made such a commitment, with some envoys saying Washington had to make sure the United States would get a seat.

The United States was one of only four nations to vote against the new rights council, saying that rules for the new council were too weak to prevent rights violators from obtaining seats.

''I think it is important that the council go forward,'' Hyde said. ''It is far short of an ideal document but it is the best that is available so you do what you can do with what you have on hand.'' ''If you don't get in, that is certainly a dramatic definition of the body's fairness,'' he added.

Conservatives in Congress have long criticized the United Nations. The debate on reform in June came during revelations of corruption in the U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq and sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers.

Hyde said the oil-for-food program was not a major topic but Dan Burton, an Indiana Republican, said he raised shredding of documents by a top U.N. official during the investigation.

Annan repeated earlier contentions that his former chief-of-staff, Iqbal Riza, had only shredded old documents, Burton said, adding, ''There is not much you can do but take him at his word but there ought to be some reprisals.'' Reuters PDS VP0435

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