In a pointed reference to the US arrears, estimated at $1.3bn, Mr Major told the UN's 50th anniversary session that "it is not sustainable for member states to enjoy representation without taxation". The remark turned on its head the "no taxation without representation" battle cry of anti- colonial revolutionaries in the 18th century.
Washington suffered serial attacks from world leaders at the three-day meeting, which ends today. But most leaders supported an appeal by President Bill Clinton for swift action to reform the UN, rationalising bureaucracy and streamlining operations. Mr Major backed an early expansion of the membership of the Security Council, which remains dominated by the original permanent five members: Britain, France, the US, Russia and China.
Officials said Britain envisaged a four-point programme to resuscitate the UN: short-term action to replenish its budget; a revision of the arrangements under which member state contributions are calculated; a provision obliging defaulting countries to pay what they owe; and wider reform of the organisation. The latter could include closing or merging 10 agencies, including Unesco.
Hopes for a special General Assembly early next year are poor. While Washington clearly expects the UN to take the first steps on reinventing itself before it comes forward with the money it owes, many other countries are adamant that they will not consider broad change until all the debts are settled.
Major and Menem, page 10
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