WASHINGTON – Add abortion rights to the ever-growing list of irritants between the United States and the United Nations.
The White House expressed concerns Tuesday that a U.N. conference on children next month will proclaim support for abortion counseling and services in its final declaration.
But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher insisted the dispute over language was "normal preparation" for any U.N. conference.
"We have every expectation that we can work them out, and that we can be there, and that we will be there at a high level," he said. A Cabinet member will likely lead the delegation, he added.
The disclosure follows the announcement earlier this week that Secretary of State Colin Powell will not attend another U.N. gathering -- this one on racism -- that begins Friday in South Africa. The Bush administration, opposed to a conference resolution it believes is anti-Semitic, has not decided whether to boycott the conference altogether.
These tussles are the latest signs of strained U.S.-U.N. relationship and come just weeks before President Bush makes his first address to the U.N. General Assembly.
It also follows criticism voiced by several nations over Bush's decision to withhold support for various international treaties. Many also have expressed concern that Bush is moving the United States toward isolationism.
Richard Falk, an international law professor at Princeton University, said the trend was one started during the Clinton administration.
"In recent years, both parties, both leaderships have at the same time tried to dominate the U.N. and weaken it as an organization," Falk said. "That's the unfortunate failure for American leadership in the post-Cold War era, and Bush just continues that attitude, perhaps deepens it a bit."
Since taking office, Bush has rejected the Kyoto climate-change treaty, pushed forward with plans for a missile-defense shield and abandoned talks on enforcing a 1972 treaty against germ warfare. The administration also opposes other treaties, including one to create an international criminal court, the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal.
Some believe that it makes sense for the administration to avoid U.N. conferences it opposes -- as long as it provides alternatives.
"If you're bailing out of everything, it reduces the political value of bailing out of things in particular," said Timothy Crawford, a postdoctoral fellow at the Brookings Institution's Foreign Policy Studies.
A key source of U.S.-U.N. tension has been Congress, which is linking the payment of $463 million in back dues to a stipulation barring U.S. funding of the international court.
Many lawmakers, mostly those in the House, are still angry over the loss earlier this year of U.S. seats on two prominent U.N. committees -- a human-rights panel and an anti-drug body.
Bush will address the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Sept. 24, as presidents traditionally do, and the administration expects Congress to pay its U.N. arrears by then. Officials say they are "working intensively with concerned parties on the Hill on the issue."
Others are not so sure. More than eight months after the United States reached a deal with the United Nations to pay part of its debt, "No check has been put in the mail," said U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard.
Earlier this month, Eckhard said U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan noted that "for a country in the U.S.'s position, this failure to pay undermines its leadership and its effectiveness in the U.N."
Despite the resentment, the United Nations will continue to seek American input, Falk said.
"There's a broad recognition that despite the criticism of the United States, the U.S. is a necessary participant in any kind of effective U.N. undertaking," Falk said.