Entire U.N. Security Council Pays Visit to Helms and Co. at Capitol


Summoned by one of the harshest critics of the United Nations, all 15 members of the Security Council trooped to Washington on Thursday to exchange views--and display pique--with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who invited the council members to the Capitol after scolding them on their own turf two months ago, urged panel members and the visiting diplomats to “agree to disagree agreeably.”

Mostly, they did that. But resentment on both sides was never far below the surface.

The Security Council members made no secret of their annoyance that Helms and his colleagues had forced the Clinton administration to cut Washington’s dues to the United Nations--and to require the world organization to agree to a long list of reforms just to get the reduced payment.


And the senators, in turn, complained that the U.N. has not yet reorganized what the lawmakers consider a bloated bureaucracy, and that U.N.-sanctioned peacekeeping operations fall most heavily on the United States and its military.

U.N. Ambassador Arnold Peter van Walsum of the Netherlands said his country supports reform of the world body but resents being bullied by Washington.

“It should be clear that we are not cooperating because we think your arguments are valid,” Van Walsum said, “but simply because we feel that the United States has to not only stay in the United Nations but has to be a committed and influential member.”

The unprecedented visit to Washington by the entire membership of the Security Council repays Helms for his January trip to New York, during which he warned that if the U.N. tried to “impose its presumed authority” on the United States, it risked U.S. withdrawal from the organization.

On Thursday, Helms kept his famously tart tongue in check. He told the diplomats, “I can’t tell you how honored I am, as a country boy, to be sitting here, saying hello and best wishes.”

In addition to a two-hour round-table discussion with the Foreign Relations Committee, the Security Council members met briefly with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other top officials. Helms was their host for lunch, and Albright for dinner.

“This is truly a unique occasion and one that I think is very, very important, and I thank them all for not only going the extra mile but the extra 200 miles to get here,” said Albright, a former U.S. representative to the U.N.

But even the ceremonial events had an edge to them. The diplomats were taken on a tour of the Capitol and received a pointed lecture by Helms on the U.S. Constitution and its separation of powers.

In some countries, Helms said, the executive branch “has a near-monopoly in the conduct of foreign policy. Not so in the United States.”

Translation: Even if the administration agrees with you, you can’t do anything without the Senate’s approval.

The Security Council members clearly realize that. But they don’t much like it.

British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock quipped that the United States is trying to get from the United Nations “what it sought from George III, the right balance of taxation and representation.” But if the United States is excused from paying the total amount of its assessed dues, he asked, why should other nations agree to pay theirs?

The most pointed criticism was directed at U.N. peacekeeping operations. The lawmakers complained that the world body tries to do too much and doesn’t show enough appreciation for U.S. contributions.

“To get support in the United States [for peacekeeping operations], you have to show the capacity to bring these things to a successful conclusion,” said Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.). He said the U.N. should stay away from conflicts in the African nations of Sierra Leone and Congo unless it is assured of receiving adequate resources to see through its peacekeeping commitments.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said the United Nations should complain as loudly about countries that are reluctant to contribute troops to peacekeeping operations as it has about Washington’s failure to pay its dues.

French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte responded that the U.N. has an obligation to stop wars whenever it can.

“Is it morally possible to say ‘no’ to populations that are desperately in need of help?” he asked, citing Sierra Leone and Congo as two populations that need U.N. intervention.

In keeping with U.N. tradition, all 15 ambassadors remained seated at their green baize table throughout the meeting.

And in keeping with customs on Capitol Hill, many of the senators drifted in and out, arriving in time to talk but leaving without having done too much listening.