By BENNY AVNI,
UNITED NATIONS � A top executive of the U.N. development arm threatened "retaliation" against a State Department official this week even though America, the top financier of the agency, pays $100 million of its annual budget.
In Washington, meanwhile, a new piece of legislation introduced in Congress yesterday set reform benchmarks for the United Nations to achieve � or else risk the withdrawal of American funds. Along with growing disenchantment with the human-rights system, these developments raise the possibility of a new chill in relations between Washington and Turtle Bay.
In a strongly worded letter to the administrator of the United Nations Development Program, Kemal Dervis, Mr. Khalilzad expressed "surprise" and "concern" at the threats made by the UNDP second in command, Ad Melkert, toward an American U.N. ambassador, Mark Wallace.
A new batch of allegations, including the financing of a Pyongyang's purchase of items that could be used in advanced weapons systems, was reported in several newspapers this week. Spokesmen for the agency told reporters that the allegations were unsupported by documentation.
On Wednesday, Mr. Wallace presented Mr. Melkert with a batch of documents, including names of Korean companies involved in the relevant UNDP transactions, and the dollar amount and dates of the agency's payments to those companies. Mr. Wallace was accompanied in the meeting at the UNDP headquarters by another American official, and with Mr. Melkert was one of his aides, according to a source familiar with the meeting.
"I was surprised and concerned to learn" that during the meeting "Mr. Melkert suggested to Ambassador Wallace that UNDP viewed United States inquiry relating to such new information as justifying some kind of �retaliation' against the Government of the United States," Mr. Khalilzad wrote to Mr. Dervis yesterday.
Mr. Melkert, a former Dutch politician, played a central role in the recent ousting of the World Bank's president, Paul Wolfowitz, which was largely seen as a retaliatory move by European opponents of the Iraq war and other policies of the Bush administration against one of its central figures.
A UNDP spokesman, David Morrison, said yesterday that the agency intended to respond to Mr. Khalilzad's letter, adding that it considered the correspondence "private." Earlier this week, Mr. Morrison said that, based on agency's own record, the new allegations "don't add up."
The Washington Post detailed some of the allegations Sunday, including how UNDP money intended for agricultural development in North Korea was used to purchase such "dual use" items as global-positioning system equipment, computers and computer accessories, and a device known as a mass spectrometer.
Mr. Morrison told reporters Monday that the equipment in question was procured in 2006 as part of a project that the UNDP financed together with Britain. But a British official, who spoke to The New York Sun on condition of anonymity, said his country co-funded agricultural projects with the UNDP between 1999 and 2004, and ended the funding after London deemed the projects "unworthy of our support."
"Their job is not simply to refute every external criticism of UNDP, but rather to ensure the integrity of UNDP from within," An American U.N. ambassador, Richard Miller, yesterday told a General Assembly committee that oversees the development agency, referring to Messrs. Dervis and Melkert.
Introducing new legislation to limit U.N. funding yesterday, the ranking Republican in the House Foreign Relations Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, of Florida, expressed similar criticism of the U.N. system as a whole.
"The delay, dilution, and defeat of various modest reform proposals by the General Assembly undermines support for the U.N.'s mission among Americans weary of that body's tepid respond to widespread corruption throughout the organization," Ms. Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement.
Her new legislation, which was immediately supported by 20 legislators after it was circulated among Republican House members yesterday, seeks to change the assessment set by the General Assembly for U.N. financing, while setting reform benchmarks. Two thirds of U.N. members pay 1% of the budget, but have the same influence over changes to the institution as America, which pays nearly quarter of the budget, to the tune of $5.3 billion a year, Ms. Ros-Lehtinen noted.
Meanwhile, Rep. Anthony Weiner, a Democrat of New York, yesterday wrote a letter to Secretary-General Ban to express his "outrage" that the Human Rights Commissioner, Louise Arbour, said it was a "good thing" for British institutions to consider boycotting Israel.