America acknowledges a debt of almost one billion dollars to the UN, which is being crippled by a lack of funds. But the issue has become a test case of American commitment to internationalism, relations between the White House and Congress, and of conservative ideology in the run up to next year's elections.
Conservative Republicans loathe the UN on principle and will do anything they can to prevent it from being funded. They have attached restrictions to cash for the UN, which would result in a cut to funding obtained from the US for international organisations which support abortion. The US maintained such restrictions until President Bill Clinton entered the White House in 1993.
Abortion is a highly divisive issue in the US, both between the parties - Democrats tend to support abortion rights, while Republicans oppose them - and within the country itself.Moderate Republicans want the party to avoid fights over the issue, which they regard as a potential liability in next year's elections, while conservatives see it as a "litmus test" for congressional and presidential candidates.
The Democrats are also in a tight spot, with many prominent party members wanting the UN dues paid. Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State, is offering to "take the heat" for a decision to accept the restrictions, if the cash can be agreed, the , The New York Times reported yesterday. The US could lose its vote in the UN General Assembly if it does not setlle its debts by the end of the year, and the State Department regards the debt as a high priority.
The UN issue is part of a budget stand-off between the President and Congress, with the US fiscal year already under way but with few of the crucial spending Bills agreed. Both sides hope to finalise a deal by next Tuesday, which would also clear the way for debt relief for poor nations.