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At U.N., Helms Softens Tone

Sen. Jesse Helms, one of the harshest critics of the United Nations, extended a "hand of friendship" to the world body Thursday but mixed the overture with a warning to the organization to trim its bureaucracy and not overstep its authority.

"The American people ... have grown increasingly frustrated with what they feel is a lack of gratitude," Helms, R-N.C., said in the first address of a U.S. lawmaker to the U.N. Security Council.

He said the United Nations must trim its spending and not draw the United States into "entangling alliances."

"A United Nations that seeks to impose its presumed authority on the American people without their consent begs for confrontation, and I want to be candid, eventual U.S. withdrawal," Helms said.

Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, accused the 188-member U.N. General Assembly of an anti-American bias in many of its activities.

"I have received literally thousands of letters from Americans all across the country expressing their deep frustration with this institution," Helms said.

Still, Helms, said he hoped that relations would improve between the world body and the Republican-led U.S. Congress.

"It is not my intent to offend you, and I hope I will not," Helms said. "It is my intent to extend to you my hand of friendship and convey the hope that in the days to come ... we can join in a mutual respect."

Helms sought to mix a stern lecture with folksy charm, saying he hoped "you have a translator here who can speak Southern."

Helms told the council exactly what he expects in return for a congressional agreement to pay nearly $1 billion in back dues owed by the United States.

"The money we spend on the U.N. is not charity," Helms said. "To the contrary, it is an investment - an investment from which the American people rightly expect a return."

Among other criticisms, Helms has taken issue with Secretary General Kofi Annan's calls for increased "global engagement."

The United Nations "must respect national sovereignty" and not seek "to impose its utopian vision of international law on Americans," Helms said.

In late 1999, Congress voted to pay $926 million in U.N. arrears over three years, ending years of debate on unrelated issues like international abortion programs that had held up the payments.

But the legislation also included about two dozen conditions, which must be met for all the money to be released. One of the conditions is that the U.N. maintains a zero-growth budget. Other conditions call for a reduction in the U.S. share of the U.N. peacekeeping budget from the current 31 percent to 25 percent; and in the regular budget from 25 percent to 22 percent.

The United States now must try to persuade the other 187 U.N. members to go along with these demands.

Helms told the Security Coucil he knew "some don't like reforms dictated to them by the United States."

Still, he said, "If we are to have a new beginning, we must endeavor to understand each other better."

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