A myopic Congress refuses to pay dues

15 March 1998

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Contrary to what many believe, Annan does not have an enviable job; agreed it is a great honour and, prestigious. While he has to work hard for world peace he has also to work equally hard to recover the money from the US which Washington is obliged to pay unless it does not consider the agreement which all states agreed to abide by is of any consequence.

While, on Thursday, Clinton gave credit to Annan for the Iraq deal, the American chief could only promise he would press the Congress harder to pay the U$1.3 billion Washington owes the UN. I believe the UN is not going to get the money any sooner because Conservative legislators continue to insist on linking the release of the money to abortion restriction which Clinton rightly and adamantly opposes.

As one Congressional source told me: "It is either pandering to the pro-abortion interest and lobby for paying the UN arrears. If paying the UN is a major American policy interest as Clinton claims, he knows what he must do".

The abortion curbs can be vetoed by Clinton but the prospect of a fight on abortion could be politically and diplomatically sensitive in the midst of the continuing financial turmoil and economic meltdown in Asia.

The US will lose its voting rights in the UN the moment it does not pay at least US$600 million (RM 2.4 billion) before New Year's Day, 10, so says Joseph Connor, the American Under Secretary-General for Management and Budget.

Besides, where is the American moral and political obligation to the international community?

It is exasperating and disgraceful that unrelated domestic political difference over abortion is withholding Congressional approval of funds to pay UN debts and other funds for international purposes such as to enable the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help troubled Asian economies which, among other things, includes buying American goods which can only help the US economy.

In Heaven's name, why should an American domestic political fight overstep Washington's international commitment? Congressmen should realize that by their amendment to include the "abortion clause" they are interfering with other nations' domestic domain. The Clinton administration is right in not embracing the amendment which compromises the freedom of personal choices open to women abroad.

The amendment deserves defeat.

The irony and the sad thing is that despite this the UN and the International Monetary Fund, on the whole, are rightly or wrongly perceived to be instruments of American policy. It can be argued they are. Whatever.

Washington has unfortunately allowed issues irrelevant to American commitment to the UN to intrude. The US must pay its debts just like any other nations. Congress must immediately stop hectoring the UN.

The UN, as the Washington Post said, was ordered to reform itself. It has and is delivering. It is the turn of the US to deliver (the money it legally owes).

I am shocked to read what Senate Majority leader Trent Lott said: "I am a lot more interested in what the United Nations is doing or not doing in Iraq than I am in talking with (Annan) about United States arrears."

This is an absurd, callous, offensive and undiplomatic statement to make. Annan has delivered what Washington and the Security Council wanted and saved the US a bombing expedition which might not have been a great success.

He has been universally credited with bringing peace closer-even temporarily in the Middle East. Annan's effort may lead to the eventual disappearance of proscribed weapons of mass destruction from Iraq.

While the paper signed by Annan and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz may be vague on several critical points, the obligation of the Americans to pay their debts is crystal clear.

Clinton has asked Congress to pay and it has hitherto not only refused to act but has added irrelevant subjects in order to delay fulfilling its obligation.

I don't expect him to confront Congress with all the troubles, legal or otherwise, on his hands. However, all this is discouraging and disappointing.

The US Congress and Americans like Senator Trent Lott may be adding to a political cost they may regret.

Dato' Abdullah Ahmad is Malaysia's Special Envoy to the United Nations

(This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Sun )