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Voting pique at the U.N.


PETULANCE is unpersuasive. The House of Representatives vote of 252 to 165 to withhold an agreed payment to the United Nations is as counterproductive as the House could get. The Bush administration rightly opposed it.

This vote to undo a carefully crafted deal to pay U.S. arrears came after the 53-member U.N. Economic and Social Council had voted the United States off the Commission on Human Rights for the first time in that commission's 54-year history. It also voted to replace an American, Herbert Okun, on the International Narcotics Control Board.

Several delegations that promised support to the United States reneged on secret ballots. Overdue dues and peace-keeping assessments are not dependent on other delegations voting right. To pick up our marbles and go home is no way to reverse these votes.

Some messages were being sent, which the House of Representatives decided not to hear. This was the cost of not having a U.S. permanent representative in place. The president intends to appoint the veteran but controversial retired diplomat, John D. Negroponte, but has not sent his nomination for Senate confirmation.

The U.N. votes were payback for an array of unilateral rejections by Washington: of the treaty to abolish land mines, of the International Criminal Court, of generic drugs to fight AIDS in poor countries, of the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gases. It was payback also for what Washington does right, such as condemn China on human rights.

The United States belongs on both bodies and its ousters were harmful to the causes of human rights and narcotics control. But the United Nations did not do this to the United States. Other members did. Washington can play the U.N. game effectively, but only if it tries. And it must pay to play. Quitting and not paying its way are not the actions of a great power.

Fortunately, the House really knows that. Under this resolution, this year's payment of $582 million will be paid, but pending a reinstatement on the Human Rights Commission, next year's installment of $244 million will not. This is an isolationist, unilateralist, arrogant gesture harmful to the U.S. national interest. But there is time to undo it.

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