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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Press briefing on attendance at 52nd UN General Assembly
Washington, D.C., September 19, 1997
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State

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SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good afternoon, everybody. On Sunday I will be leaving for New York to join President Clinton for the start of the 52nd UN General Assembly. So I thought it would be a good time to address the what and why of our policy on UN reform and to preview what our agenda will be in New York in the next two weeks.
Let me focus first on the issue of UN reform and US arrears. And, no, this is not about Ted Turner or the extraordinarily generous gift that he announced last night. I think that it not only reflects Ted Turner's brilliant approach to how to solve problems, but also the reflection of how the American people feel about the value of the United Nations.
It in no way, however, diminishes the President's determination to work with Congress to meet our obligations and to ensure that the UN meets its obligations to us. I spoke to Ted Turner this morning and it was great fun. He is very excited about what he has done, and we obviously are very excited also.
As you know, for some time we have been trying to solve a problem that harms both our interests in the UN and our ability to prepare the organization to meet the challenges of the next century. We find ourselves roughly one billion dollars behind in our payments to the UN and its specialized agencies. This shortfall undermines our ability to get diplomatic support for reform proposals that many nations accept are necessary, but that will require a change in the culture of the UN.
More fundamentally, the shortfall undermines a basic goal of US foreign policy -- to convince others to play by the rules of the international system.
So for the last three years, we have been seeking a formula that would get us right with the UN by paying our debts, and get the UN right with us by becoming more efficient and more effective.
We have made progress towards both goals, and as a result, we now face decisions in both Washington and New York that will determine the future of America's relationship with the UN; and, by extension, the future of the UN itself.
In Washington, thanks in great part to the work of Senators Helms and Biden, the Senate has approved legislation that would authorize payment of most of our dues and debts to the UN as the UN adopts financial and management reforms -- an approach that also owes a great deal to the work of Congressmen Gilman and Hamilton.
The legislation is not yet final, and its fate is tied to some troublesome unrelated issues, but the President hopes to have a bill he can sign soon.
What is most significant about this legislation is that it recognizes America's abiding interest in a strong, effective United Nations. Given a choice between giving up on the UN and making our investment work, between retreat and reform, Congress is choosing the responsible course. It is choosing to keep America engaged. This is not an act of faith, but an expression of American pragmatism. It is a vote to keep UN inspectors in North Korea and Iraq so we can prevent those nations from building weapons of mass destruction. It is a vote to keep UN war crimes prosecutors on the job so we can deter genocide and hold killers accountable. It is a vote to keep UN peacekeepers in some of the most strife-torn places on the planet where we need them to be, where no nation would wish to go alone. It is a vote in favor of programs that immunize children and prevent the spread of disease.
Above all, it is a realistic acknowledgment that the United States has a stake in what the UN does and a stake in working with others to make it do what it does better with greater efficiency and at less cost. That is why we are also heartened that in New York, Secretary General Annan has proposed a comprehensive package of reforms that go a long way toward meeting our concerns. And let me say that I have spent enough time in New York to know just how hard this has been. The Secretary General has a very tough job. He has limited powers and 184 bosses to please, and the progress he has made is mark of true conviction. Correct that, 185 bosses to please.
Finally, the grand bargain we have long sought on UN reform and US arrears is in sight, but it is not yet in hand. We will grasp it when everyone concerned acknowledges a basic and undeniable fact -- the United States needs the United Nations, and the United Nations needs the United States. This is our challenge.
On the one hand, the UN's staunchest defenders are preoccupied with the problem of American arrears; on the other, the UN's staunchest critics are preoccupied with the problem of mismanagement and waste. What is needed from both sides is a focus on solutions -- an honest effort to change the subject from who's to blame to how do we fix it.
What we need from all sides is a healthy sense of realism. In Washington, we must acknowledge just how far the UN has already traveled along the path to reform. We have a no-growth budget; an inspector general with a solid initial track record; cutbacks in staff, paperwork and overhead; the consolidation of departments and a code of conduct for employees. All this adds up to more reform in the last two years than in the previous fifty.
We must also recognize that the Secretary General cannot transform the UN alone. His most fundamental proposals, as well as ours, require the support of member governments. That is why we must show we understand that the United States is not the only member of the UN. We need to work with our partners and respect their views. We need to acknowledge that many of them have made immense contributions to peacekeeping and humanitarian relief, over and above their legal obligations, just as we have. We need to demonstrate that our crusade for reform is not just an effort to save money, but an effort to focus the UN's limited resources on the priorities we share.
Our partners at the UN must also be pragmatic. They must acknowledge that the UN cannot flourish if it does not enjoy the full confidence of the American people and their elected representatives. They must recognize -- and I believe most do -- that the concerns we have expressed about the UN are reasonable; and that our reform agenda is in the best interest of the organization. They must understand that if the UN waits for a better proposal with more money from the United States Congress, it is likely to get a proposal with more requirements and less money.
I understand the reluctance of many nations, as a matter of principle, to accept the linkage between our dues payment and UN reform. But I fear that if our partners stand on that principle, realistically the UN could end up with neither the cash it needs nor the reform members want. That would be a lose-lose proposition. We have a win-win alternative that deserves support.
Over the next few days, I will be speaking with our key partners in New York about our reform agenda. At its heart is a proposal to cap the US contribution for peacekeeping at 25 percent, and for the UN regular budget at 20 percent. This would reduce the UN's financial dependence on the U.S. It reflects the great economic strides that have been made by many nations around the world -- nations that can afford to pick up a larger share of responsibility and should do so.
I will also reaffirm our support for Security Council expansion. We believe the Council should grow to 20 or 21 members, including permanent seats for Germany and Japan and three additional permanent seats for developing nations representing Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Of course my focus at the UN will not be only or even primarily on the UN itself. The General Assembly is the most comprehensive annual gathering of nations and leaders we have. I plan to roll up my sleeves and approach it the way President Clinton works a crowd -- I won't leave until I've shaken every hand and bent every ear.
I will be meeting with my counterparts from our key European and Asian allies. I will be speaking with Foreign Minister Qian Qichen of China to continue planning the coming Sino-American Summit.
I will be chairing a special UN Security Council session on Africa.
I will attend the first meeting of the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council, as well as a Bosnia Contact Group ministerial.
I will speak with our key ASEAN partners about Cambodia and conduct discussions to follow up on my Middle East trip.
You may say there will be nothing earth-shattering, but that is the whole point of foreign policy -- to keep the Earth from shattering. This will simply be two weeks of doing America's business -- what I call bread and butter diplomacy -- and another reminder of the useful role the UN plays as a meeting house of the world. I hope to see you all there.
QUESTION: Secretary, can you tell us the results of your trip?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: You have all had a great deal of me last week, and you're going to have an awful lot more of me in the next two weeks. So I'll see you all there.

[End of Document]

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