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UN renovation clears hurdle after US stands aside

Written by: Staff
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UNITED NATIONS, Apr 25 (Reuters) A UN committee has approved the next phase of a long-awaited renovation of United Nations headquarters after the United States dropped its opposition to some of the spending.

Washington let the project move ahead after Louis Frederick Reuter, who is managing the project as executive director of the UN Capital Master Plan, publicly warned last week that each day of delay increased costs by 225,000 dollar.

A resolution adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly's budget committee authorised the immediate spending of 23.5 million dollar for design and pre-construction work and the commitment of an additional 77 million dollar toward building a new office building on a lawn inside the headquarters compound.

The United States had blocked the resolution for about a month, arguing it was premature to approve the 77 million dollar before UN members decided whether the new building would be a temporary or permanent addition.

''We believe such a decision on strategy is critical before significant funds are approved for this project. Therefore we must disassociate from the consensus on this resolution today,'' US Ambassador John Bolton told the committee.

Reuter insisted the work could go forward without prejudicing a decision on the building's ultimate status.

South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, calling the present 38-story UN skyscraper ''aging and unsafe,'' said the delay had ''deeply distressed'' developing nations because it was running up the project's cost.

The Group of 77 -- a bloc of 132 developing countries, plus China, headed by Kumalo -- has found itself at odds with Washington over UN reform plans pushed by the United States following widespread mismanagement in the defunct billion UN oil-for-food program for Iraq.

The renovation resolution now goes to the full 191-nation General Assembly, where routine approval is expected.

The UN headquarters compound is one of New York's most popular tourist attractions. But after 54 years, it is riddled with asbestos and lacks fire detectors, a sprinkler system and other emergency safety devices.

The United Nations has been working for six years on a renovation plan for the tower. The latest proposal, estimated at 1.2 billion dollar to 1.6 billion dollar or more, has been scaled back and stretched out to avoid moving the whole organization into temporary headquarters while the work is carried out.

Because Washington pays about a quarter of the regular UN budget, the US share could run to 400 million dollar or more in the event of cost overruns.

REUTERS SK RAI0656

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