by Haider Rizvi
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- The United States appears to be on verge of a head-on collision with the United Nations over the question of how the world body should be running its affairs.
The confrontation intensified last week when U.S. Ambassador John Bolton suggested that his country would not approve the full UN budget unless the organization implements proposed management reforms.
The extraordinary U.S. move compelled UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to cancel his two-week visit to China, South Korea, Japan and Vietnam, which was due to start Monday.
"We do not want to be in a position where we adopt a budget next month, and we get no more reform for the two-year life of the budget," Bolton told reporters last week, while justifying his proposal for an interim budget that covers only the next three months.
But Annan and other UN officials say that is not acceptable.
"You need the budget for U.S. to be able to plan ahead and carry out our work, and if you do not do that, you really have no basis of even asking the member states to contribute and you may create a serious financial crisis for the organization," said Annan in response to Bolton's remarks.
UN budget officials are equally worried about the consequences of a delayed budget.
"The Secretariat considers it a serious problem in terms of cash flow," said UN comptroller Warren Sach. "The perception of member states is that this is part of a negotiating scheme (by the United States)."
This year's UN biennial budget is estimated to be nearly $4 billion. If it is not approved fully, the organization says it may have to delay paying salaries.
Diplomats and UN officials say despite differences on the issue of reforms, all other member states, including Britain, a close U.S. ally, are in favor of passing the full budget in December.
Though not required by the UN Charter, approving the biennial budget with consensus by the end of the year is a practice that has continued uninterrupted since the era of President Reagan, according to UN officials.
Bolton has been aggressively pushing for management changes at the UN since his appointment last August, but has faced strong opposition from the Group of 77 and China, the largest single bloc of 132 developing countries.
The G77 and China view Bolton's push for management reforms as an attempt to take away what little powers the 191-member General Assembly currently has and pass them over to the Secretariat.
Last month, tensions escalated between the G77 and the Secretariat over Annan's attempt to set up a new ethics office and a rule of law unit without seeking approval of the General's Assembly's fifth committee, which deals with administrative and budgetary issues, and the advisory committee on budgetary questions.
"The Secretariat should exercise caution in dealing with such sensitive issues, which could be regarded as intervention in the intergovernmental process," Jamaican ambassador and G77 chairman Stafford Neil told the UN General Assembly president in a letter last month.
Neil said Annan's decision on the creation of an ethics office raised "serious concerns" and called it a "departure" from the agreement reached at a summit meeting of world leaders held in New York in September.
"The expected procedure in this case is for all details," Neil said, "not just the budgetary implications, to be submitted to the General Assembly for its consideration for accounts with the existing rules."
On his return from Asia last month, Annan met with the G77 leaders, which he described later as a "good and frank" discussion, but observers said the atmosphere during the talks remained filled with mistrust and tension, as the group continued to see Annan's initiative as a move to appease Washington.
"I made it quite clear that there's no attempt at power grab," Annan told reporters after the meeting in an attempt to pacify the G77 and China's concerns.
As the budget crisis erupted last week, once again Annan had another round of meetings with the G77 and members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), according to UN officials who are closely observing the budget negotiations.
Despite strong reaction from the Secretariat and other member nations, however, there seems to be no sign of flexibility in the U.S. position.
"Business as usual has gotten U.S. to the stage where we need a revolution of reform, and business as usual is not going to accomplish that resolution," Bolton said in defense of his budget proposal.
His tough approach in dealing with the world body has earned him scathing criticism not only from within the diplomatic community, but from the mainstream U.S. media, as well.
"Muscular diplomacy is one thing," the New York Times wrote in a Dec. 2 editorial. "But John Bolton has been all muscles and no diplomacy as the United States ambassador."
Observers say that at the moment, it is not clear what the outcome of the current negotiations will be, but chances are that Bolton would have to step back in the face of opposition from all sides, including the Secretariat, the European Union, the NAM and the G77.
But what if Bolton's "muscular diplomacy" wins out in the end?
"If he prevails, that means I am not going to get paid," said one UN official, who -- for obvious reasons -- is closely watching the diplomatic talks on the budget.
December 7, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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