Congress rebuffs Europe on UN funds

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in Halifax, Nova Scotia


in New York

John Major and President Jacques Chirac of France were set for some tough talking with President Bill Clinton last night over funding for the United Nations reinforcements in Bosnia. But as the leaders were meeting at a working dinner at the summit of the Group of Seven industrialised nations, the Republican leaders of the US Congress were rejecting any non-voluntary funding of the rapid reaction force.

"In our view, if you choose to support a UN Security Council resolution authorising the expansion of Unprofor to accommodate the [force], the costs should be borne through voluntary contributions," the Senate majority leader, Bob Dole, and the House Speaker, Newt Gingrich, wrote to Mr Clinton. "We oppose funding through UN assessments."

Earlier, President Chirac expressed optimism that congressional approval of the funding was "imminent''.

The British Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, said the Americans "have to pay their whack" for the new UN operation. Speaking on board the aircraft taking the British delegation to Halifax, Mr Hurd said: "Large sections of American opinion have been pressing for greater muscle. Well - here's greater muscle. It has to be paid for."

The British and French reinforcements are an integrated part of the UN operation and as such should be paid for according to normal UN assessments, he said. The US is by far the biggest financial contributor to the UN.

But reservations in Congress over the funding for an expanded UN operation have delayed passage of a new Security Council resolution authorising an increase in the force. This delay, in turn, is contributing to uncertainty and poor morale among UN troops and officials in the peace-keeping force.

Mr Chirac said he had pressed for early approval of the resolution in talks on Wednesday with Messrs Dole, Gingrich and Clinton, as well as the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher.

Mr Hurd also said Britain would be pressing its G7 partners to discourage any of the warring parties in Bosnia from new offensive action. Britain, however, welcomed a statement by Mr Clinton calling on the Bosnian government to refrain from launching its much-heralded assault to clear rebel Serb forces from heights commanding Sarajevo.

The British and French governments will be taking advantage of the G7 meeting to urge a reinvigorated role for the European Union and UN mediators, Carl Bildt and Thorvald Stoltenberg. They hope that Mr Bildt will be able to give new impetus to a diplomatic push to end the war.

The Bosnia crisis and its associated problems are threatening to overshadow the agenda at the summit, which was intended to concentrate on the reform of the UN and the Bretton Woods financial institutions.