UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The United Nations on Friday warned that a proposed congressional bill linking U.N. reform with tens of millions of dollars in U.S. dues would be “counterproductive.”

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is pushing his own reform package, which would include some of the most sweeping changes in the 60-year history of the United Nations. Officials here worry that the congressional action would interfere with his efforts.

“The secretary-general’s position on the use of withholding as a tool for reform is pretty clear,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. “He feels it’s counterproductive, particularly at a time when reform is such a primary agenda item.”

The House International Relations Committee distributed an early version of the “United Nations Reform Act of 2005” on Thursday. The document seeks to cut funding for programs seen as useless and bar human rights violators from serving on U.N. human rights bodies.

The 80-page bill is almost certain to undergo major changes if it ever reaches its final form – partly because President Bush opposes the idea. But it still sent shudders through the United Nations on Friday, because the United States is the largest contributor to the U.N. budget.

One of its most controversial proposals is linking dues to the changes it spells out. The document stipulates that if those reforms are not carried out, Congress will withhold 50 percent of U.S. dues to the U.N. general budget, taking the money from programs it deems inefficient and wasteful.

At a Thursday hearing on U.N. reform, Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., also cautioned against using dues to push for reform. As the ranking Democrat on the committee, led by Illinois Republican Henry Hyde, Lantos’ support would be crucial for obtaining bipartisan support for the bill.

“It will be very important for us to resist the powerful temptation to withhold the payment of our dues in an attempt to leverage needed changes at the United Nations,” Lantos said.

The proposed changes would shake the U.N. system at its foundations. The United States pays almost 25 percent of the world body’s annual $1.5 billion general budget.

However, that does not include money for peacekeeping, international tribunals or programs like the U.N. Development Program and UNICEF, which are funded separately.

For many, the move could be reminiscent of the 1990s, when the United States fell millions of dollars behind in its dues, throwing the United Nations into financial crisis, because several U.S. lawmakers argued the payments were excessive and the bureaucracy was too bloated.

That earlier crisis also strained ties with other countries. In 1998, the United States almost lost its voting rights in the General Assembly over unpaid contributions.

The new initiative would also likely face opposition from many U.N. members. Yet some are open to the idea, include Japan, which pays more U.N. dues than any other nation besides the United States.

“I think we, of course, will be very much interested in how the United States would want to do it,” said Jun Yamazaki, the Japanese U.N. mission’s minister for budgets.

The lynchpin of the proposed bill is the requirement that several U.N. programs now funded under the general budget instead raise their money through voluntary contributions from governments and individual donors.

The idea is that by requiring these programs to seek funding on their own, they would have to become more efficient and transparent or shut down if they cannot compete. Advocates point to programs that are funded that way and now run smoothly, including the U.N. Development Program, the World Health Organization and UNICEF.


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