Helms lectures U.N. about its treatment of U.S.

Senator urges new start, then lists negative views

January 21, 2000|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

UNITED NATIONS -- Sen. Jesse Helms, came to the Security Council yesterday offering a "hand of friendship," but delivered the sort of clenched-fist message that has made him the symbol of right-wing hostility to the United Nations.

Helms, the most powerful conservative voice in foreign policy as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, argued that Congress had the right to dictate conditions for the payment of American debts to the organization. He warned the United Nations to keep its "utopian" visions away from American sovereignty.

"If the United Nations respects the sovereign rights of the American people, and serves them as an effective tool of diplomacy, it will earn and deserve their respect and support," the North Carolina Republican said in a speech to council members. "But a United Nations that seeks to impose its presumed authority on the Ameri can people without their consent begs for confrontation and, I want to be candid, eventual U.S. withdrawal."

Helms' visit was arranged with the help of Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations and this month's Security Council president. Holbrooke has spent months trying to build bridges with a hostile Congress, led by Helms, that has held up payments of U.N. dues and delayed the confirmation of ambassadors and other foreign policy officials -- notably including Holbrooke himself.

"It is important," Helms said, "that this body have greater contact with the elected representa tives of the American people, and that we have greater contact with you." He invited Security Council members to visit his committee in Washington. Before the council meeting, he spoke for about 40 minutes with Secretary General Kofi Annan and asked him to pose for pictures with the Helms family.

But in his speech, Helms, asserting that he was speaking for the American people, delivered a conservative manifesto on the United Nations, and didn't leave anything open for compromise.

At the end of his address nearly every member of the Security Council challenged Helms' bleak portrayal of the United Nations, and criticized the United States for letting the organization down.

Ambassador Alain Dejammet of France, visibly agitated, said to Helms: "We hear you, but the idea in this house is that others must be heard as well."

And Sir Jeremy Greenstock of Britain added: "The United Nations is not a separate organ to which we turn, like a fire service. It is the member states, and the United States owns 25 percent of the power and the resources of the United Nations. What it does well, the U.S. gets credit for. What it does badly, the U.S. must bear some responsibility for.

"We have to do things here democratically," Sir Jeremy said, "because we all have national sovereignties. We all have national sovereignties, and in a globalizing world there is such a thing as the international collective interest."

Helms said that unlike the Europeans, the American people were moving away from "supra-national institutions" and want no part of "utopian" international arrangements, including the international criminal court created last year over the objections of the United States.

The senator said he spoke for the American people, but in reality he set out a clear-cut manifesto of the conservative right on international affairs.

In a list of indictments against the organization, he revived old criticism about votes in the General Assembly that ran against the United States, he attacked a human rights monitor who reported on allegations of human rights violations in the United States and objected to accusations that U.S. debts -- still more than $1 billion despite a recent payment -- were harming the organization.

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