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US Vote Not To Pay $900 United Nations Arrears

The US Congress has voted for a budget bill not to pay its $900 million arrears to the UN possibly leaving the country without a General Assembly vote come 31 December. Clinton has vetoed the bill but loss of a US vote in the UN could be positive particularly for the internationally unpopular Helms-Burton Act. John Howard reports.

Every year the UN General Assembly votes to condemn the Helms-Burton Act and US Cuban policy. On each occasion, however, both the US and Israel vote the opposite. If the US lost its UN General-Assembly vote that would leave only Israel to vote against the Helms-Burton Act and the outcome of that vote would be interesting.

The Helms-Burton Act, tightening the US embargo on Cuba and punishing other countries who trade with Cuba, was passed by the US Senate on March 5 1996. The Act effectively approved a law imposing clauses of US national legislation on other countries. It strikes out blindly with punitive measures which nobody really understands.

Since then there has been international outrage. The only US explanation why it stubbornly clings to such internationally unpopular stances is that, according to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the US is genuinely "indispensable."

In other words, might is right.

Not surprisingly , the Helms-Burton Act was pushed by none other than Republican Senator,Jesse Helms, who is the man now stalling the appointment of Carol Moseley-Braun as US Ambassador-designate to New Zealand. Helms is promising to dig into alleged "serious charges of ethical misconduct" in her past and yet, will not or, has not, scheduled a hearing for her. She at least deserves a hearing.

With the congressional session soon drawing to a close for the year, Senate confirmation of her appointment this year now seems unlikely.

Helms is the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee and wields enormous power over US Foreign policy. He has previously sunk international treaties and vetoed appointments.

But for years now, the vitriol that Helms has directed against anyone who is not white, heterosexual, small-town southerner, has earned him some unprintable nick-names.

In 1997, for example, Helms blocked the Clinton nomination of Governor Bill Weld as the US Amabssador to Mexico. Weld, like Helms, is a republican albeit a moderate liberal to be sure, and it would have been reasonable to think that Senate republicans would have been happy with the choice.

But no, Helms blocked him with the alleged reasons that he was too liberal, not ambassador quality, too loose with his lips, supported marijuana use for medical reasons and was not an abortion opponent.

The real problem was that Helm's decision to block the nomination of Weld could not easily be circumvented by other members of his committee although it is possible. No sitting Senator thought the Weld appointment was crucial enough to oppose Helms.

Carol Moseley-Braun's confirmation as New Zealand Ambassador should not be held up by a man with such a background who perhaps should retire. Our government must strongly speak out.

Which brings us back to the US congressional vote that didn't pay US dues to the UN.

US Amabssador Richard Holbrooke said Tuesday: "We need to band together now on a bipartisan basis to push back the forces of that small group of people who want to destroy United States national security interests and simultaneously do immeasurable damage to the United Nations."

According to UN figures, the US is currently $1.8 billion in arrears and must pay $350 million by December 31 to keep its seat in the UN General-Assembly.

Clinton says the budget bill included adequate funds to pay the annual US contribution to the regular UN budget - but he said the payment schedule was changed so funds wouldn't be authorised in time to avoid losing the US seat. This, he said, was "unacceptable."

Congress has held up payment of US arrears for years. Legislation that would have paid off the bulk of the bills was vetoed last year by Clinton because it contained unrelated restrictions on US spending for overseas family planning organisations.

"It seems these latest moves are a dramatic end-game of the US budget process which has now begun," Holbrooke said.


ends

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