WASHINGTON – The Bush administration voiced opposition Wednesday to plans in Congress to withhold back dues from the United Nations unless America gets back its seat on the U.N. Human Rights Commission.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said congressional approval of such a proposal "would be extremely damaging" to America's ability to cooperate in multilateral organizations.
He said it would raise questions about the reliability of American participation in these groups and about its willingness to pay its fair share.
Many lawmakers, outraged by the U.S. ouster from the commission, indicated they would try to retaliate by blocking $582 million in back dues to the United Nations. The money is included in a bill to fund State Department operations for the next fiscal year.
Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., chairman of the House International Relations Committee, and ranking Democrat Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., wrote an amendment that would allow the $582 million payment but prevent the remaining $244 million owed to the United Nations from being paid until the United States is returned to the commission.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, predicted the Hyde-Lantos bill will pass.
"It reduces the United Nations to a farce when they expel the champion of human rights," Armey said.
A senior House aide said the vote on the amendment is set for Thursday. The overall bill will be voted on next Wednesday, he said.
Boucher's message was reinforced by White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
He said that while the United States is disappointed at the loss of the seat on the human rights commission, President Bush "feels strongly that this issue should not be linked to the payment of our arrears to the U.N. and other international organizations."
He noted that there was a negotiated agreement involving key members of Congress for the payment of American back dues to the United Nations. That agreement, Fleischer said, is a separate issue.
The United States has been on the commission for more than 50 years, using the Geneva-based forum to target perceived human rights violators, especially China and Cuba in recent years.
The commission voted the United States out but added Sudan, which is on the State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism. The addition of Sudan has reinforced the deep sense of disillusionment on Capitol Hill.
Boucher said the administration will make every effort to get back on the commission when the next election is scheduled in May 2002. The soonest the United States could return would be Jan. 1, 2003.
Boucher suggested it would be wrong for the United States to punish the United Nations as a whole for an action taken by the U.N. Economic and Social Council, whose members belong to the rights commission.
"Secretary General Kofi Annan has expressed quite publicly his disappointment and I think that of the U.N. system that the U.S. won't be a seated member of this committee for the future," he said. "So I think our focus is primarily on the members and the people who voted or didn't vote in our favor, rather than on the United Nations as a whole."