Clinton at the U.N. Compromise plan: If world body reforms some, U.S. will pay some arrears.

September 23, 1997

THE 'GRAND BARGAIN' that the administration hopes to cement between the United Nations and Congress is desperately needed, but that does not guarantee success. It is in deep trouble. The 185 members of the U.N. General Assembly may not enact the reforms Secretary-General Kofi Annan recommended, which are insufficient to assuage Sen. Jesse Helms. The Senate, under the North Carolina Republican's foreign policy leadership, is considering paying only some of the arrears the United States owes.

President Clinton, the thickness of whose skin is remarkable, did not hesitate to address the 52nd General Assembly yesterday in quest of the grand bargain. He wanted credit for announcing he would seek Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty he signed a year ago.

Mr. Clinton bravely promised action to ''put the question of debts and dues behind us once and for all.'' No chance. His budget deal with Congress allows only $819 million in past dues and assessments to be paid, providing Senator Helms' tests have been met. U.N. members want up to $1.5 billion they claim is owed, with no conditions. The United States has been urging that its 25 percent share of U.N. dues be reduced to 20 percent. Within the context of Security Council enlargement, this would make sense. But members don't see it as a quid pro quo for the United States' paying what it owes.

Mr. Clinton deserves sympathy as the man in the middle. His grand bargain is a carefully drawn strategy for ending an impasse that is embarrassing to the United States, harmful to its interests and damaging to the world. The United States has no allies on this, as British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook made clear in the lounges yesterday. But compromise is the stuff of politics, which members of the U.N. and Congress both understand.

This is the issue on which the president should try to beat Senator Helms, if necessary. The ability of the United States to command respect is at stake. The failed nomination of Gov. William F. Weld of Massachusetts to be ambassador to Mexico was never worth the showdown, which is why it was withdrawn.

Paying up somewhat more than half the past dues would not complete the bargain, but would go a long way in the right direction. Mr. Clinton appointed Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson to bring off this accommodation. The challenge is still there.

Pub Date: 9/23/97

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