House votes on bill to cut funds to U.N. unless reforms carried out

The House of Representatives is ready to decide whether to slash U.S. contributions if the United Nations doesn't carry out reforms. Lawmakers had to weigh their frustrations with the international body against administration objections that the legislation could be counterproductive.

The legislation under debate and facing a vote Friday would withhold half of U.S. dues to the U.N.'s general budget if the organization doesn't meet a list of demands for change. Failure to comply would also result in U.S. refusal to support expanded and new peacekeeping missions.

Before the final vote, legislators discussed the seating of such human rights abusers as Cuba and Sudan on the U.N. Commission on Human Rights and the oil-for-food program that became a source of up to $10 billion (Ђ8.21 billion) in illicit revenue for former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry proposed an amendment under which the United States would use its influence to ensure that any member engaged in acts of genocide or crimes against humanity would lose its U.N. membersship and face arms and trade embargoes.

"Over the years, as we listened to the counsels for patience, the U.N.'s failings have grown," said House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde sponsor of the measure. "The time has finally come where we must in good conscience say 'enough."'

Hyde was joined by lawmakers with a litany of complaints against what they said was the U.N.'s lavish spending, its coddling of rogue regimes, its anti-America, anti-Israel bias and recent scandals such as the mismanagement of the oil-for-food program in Iraq and the sexual misconduct of peacekeepers.

The House will choose Friday between Hyde's bill and an alternative offered by the committee's top Democrat, Tom Lantos. The Lantos bill also demands an overhaul of the U.N. but leaves it to the secretary of state to decide whether withholding of funds is warranted. pending.

The legislation would have to be approved by the Senate and signed by President George W. Bush before becoming law. The Senate has no similar legislation pending and there has been little sentiment expressed for the kind of changes sought by Hyde. While opposing the Hyde bill, Bush has not threatened to veto it.

Under the Hyde approach, the cutoff in contributions would be automatic, Lantos said. "Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would have absolutely no choice in the matter. The president of the United States will have no choice in this matter. The Congress will have no choice in this matter."

The vote is expected to be close, and the administration on Thursday urged the Republican-led House to reconsider the legislation. The administration said in a statement that it is actively engaged in U.N. reform, and the Hyde bill "could detract from and undermine our efforts."

Eight former U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations, including Madeleine Albright and Jeane Kirkpatrick, also weighed in, telling lawmakers in a letter that withholding of dues would "create resentment, build animosity and actually strengthen opponents of reform."

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed support earlier this week for another congressional effort to bring about U.N. reform. A task force led by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican, and former Senate Majority leader George Mitchell, a Democrat, recommended such changes as setting up an independent auditing board and weighted voting on financial issues for members who contribute more to the budget.

Also Thursday, the administration supported a measured expansion of the Security Council, but said widespread reform of the United Nations takes precedence.

"We are not prepared to have Security Council reform sprint out ahead of the other extremely important reforms that have to take place," Rice said at a news conference. She cited management, peace-building and halting the proliferation of dangerous weapons technology.

JIM ABRAMS, Associated Press Writer

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