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US Finally Pays Portion of $1.7b UN Debt

The US has saved itself the international embarrassment of losing its vote in the UN General Assemby on 31 December by paying part of the $1.17 billion it owes in outstanding fees. John Howard reports.

The US had to pay $250 million before December 31 to keep its General Assembly vote and earlier this week it was still $8 million short. But on Tuesday UN officials said a cheque for $51.2 million arrived from Washington, well over the minimum amount needed.

Under the UN Charter, a country automatically loses its vote if the amount of arrears equals or exceeds the amount of its dues for the two preceding years.

Last month the US Congress voted to pay $926 million in UN arrears over three years. Many in Washington viewed the move as a turning point in US relations with the world organisation, though the amount still won't settle all of America's accounts.

The UN says the US owed the world body $1.52 billion at the time of the vote. $1 billion remains unpaid on the peacekeeping budget.

The US legislation approving the payments also includes around 20 conditions, which must be met for the rest of the money to be released. The US must now try and convince the other 187 UN members to go along with these Congressional demands.

Many UN members resent Washington for trying to impose conditions on them that America would never tolerate from any other country.

They include calls for the US share of the regular UN budget to be reduced from the current 25 percent to 20 percent and its share of the peacekeeping budget operations to be reduced from 31 percent to 25 percent.

"A loss of the US vote in the General Assembly would have threatened US influence not just at the UN but in all sorts of important issues around the world, " said US Ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke.

He had spent the first four months of his term lobbying Congress to pay the arrears and said that Congressional approval was "a terrain-changing event."

Holbrooke ackowledges that the US faces a very substantial task in trying to get other member states to approve Congressional conditions in order for the US to release further funds.

Throughout next year, millennium forums are planned by the UN culminating in September in the largest gathering of world leaders ever assembled. It is anticipated that significant UN reform will come from the forums including a global tax to fund the UN, a permanent international peacekeeping force and an international Environment Court.

ends

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