New UN chief facing old cash dilemma

For Kofi Annan, the new Secretary-General of the United Nations, the visit to Washington last week was a giddy round of receptions, audiences and intense media attention. President Bill Clinton received him in the Oval Office and Senator Jesse Helms, the UN's curmudgeonly nemesis, had some kind words.

To an extent, the visit must be judged a success. Mr Annan has put his reputation on the line promising to propose a comprehensive package of UN reforms by the summer. He has also fully engaged Washington on its responsibility to deliver the other side of the bargain: to pay up its back dues to the UN, worth over $1.3bn, and thus relieve the organisation's financial crisis.

That this is going to be a hard trick to pull off is evident. But as Mr Annan flew back to headquarters last Friday he must have pondered that something worse than failure might happen - that the demands coming from Capitol Hill may ignite months of dangerous argument between the United States on the one hand and the rest of the UN on the other, with him, all reasonableness, in the middle.

For example: Mr Annan suggested during a speech to the National Press Club in Washington last Friday that the US might be allowed to lower its long-standing 25-per cent share of the regular UN budget, if it could persuade other member states to acquiesce. "The formula is not sacrosanct," he intoned. "The United States can negotiate a lower rate for itself". That came only a day after Mr Helms, dawdling with reporters outside the White House, had mused about those "European countries that are so critical about us". Perhaps, he said, it was time "we looked at what they contribute".

Mr Annan conceded another point to Mr Helms. The senator is proposing to table draft legislation on the Hill as early as this week laying down what he called "benchmarks" of reform that the UN will have to meet before Congress will consider relinquishing monies to pay back its UN arrears. And Mr Annan has agreed to receive staff members from the senator's office in New York this week to discuss what the legislation might look like.

Defensive UN officials insisted that Mr Annan has little choice but to show accommodation to the US. Mr Clinton, they said, urged Mr Annan to make friends with as many people as possible on Capitol Hill. After all, it is the members of Congress who are refusing to pay the UN. The administration is fully aware of the damage being done to its influence in the UN.

Mr Annan's overtures are certain, however, to make some of the 184 UN members nervous, if not livid. The US, after all, does have a treaty obligation to pay its dues on time. Why, other countries will wonder, the special treatment for Washington?

Mr Annan's agreement to see staff from Senator Helm's office came only hours after he told an editorial board of the Washington Post that he would not deal directly with officials from member state parliaments, only with national missions established in New York, he said.

The idea of "benchmarks" will not sit well with any other state, Britain and France among them. For benchmarks read conditions - conditions on fulfilling a treaty requirment. Questioned in a corridor of the Senate last Thursday, a UN staff member described the Helms demands as being "sticky" for Mr Annan and that he was going to have to walk "a fine line". Indeed.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
booksNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015