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U.S. panel to endorse proposed U.N. reform


UNITED NATIONS - A congressionally mandated panel will report this week that the United Nations suffers from poor management, "dismal" staff morale and lack of accountability and professional ethics, but its report will acknowledge the broad changes proposed for the organization by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and will urge the United States to support them.

Among its recommendations, the panel says the United Nations should put in place corporate-style oversight bodies and personnel standards to improve performance. It also calls on the world body to create a rapid reaction capability from its member states' armed forces to prevent genocide, mass killings and sustained major human rights violations.

Republican Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the House, and Democrat George J. Mitchell, a former Senate majority leader, are co-chairmen of the bipartisan task force. It includes former diplomats, military and intelligence officials and leaders of conservative and liberal political institutes.

It was created by Congress in December to suggest measures to make the United Nations more effective and ways in which the United States can spur needed changes. The United States is the biggest donor to the United Nations, contributing 22 percent of the regular operating budget and nearly 27 percent of the peacekeeping budget.

The panel, called the Task Force on the United Nations, made a copy of its 174-page report available to The New York Times yesterday. It is to be made public in Washington on Wednesday.

In judging the United Nations and its lapses, the task force said it had focused on the responsibilities of the states making up the institution rather than just the institution itself. "On stopping genocide," the report said, "too often 'the United Nations failed' should actually read 'members of the United Nations blocked or undermined action by the United Nations.'"

In a foreword to the report, Gingrich and Mitchell said that they were "struck by the United Nations' own receptivity to needed reforms" but added that the changes "must be real and must be undertaken promptly."

The Gingrich-Mitchell task force is one of six investigations of the United Nations initiated in Washington; a seventh was initiated in New York. Five congressional committees and the Justice Department are conducting inquiries into the oil-for-food program, created to allow Iraq to sell oil to meet the needs of its civilian population, and smuggling during the time when Iraq was under U.N. sanctions. An independent panel headed by Paul A. Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman, is scheduled to deliver its third and final report on the subject next month.

A number of Congress members have called on Annan to step down because of the scandals in the oil-for-food program. Last week, Rep. Henry J. Hyde, an Illinois Republican and chairman of the International Relations Committee, introduced legislation that would withhold half of the United States' dues to the United Nations unless it met specified requirements for change and would turn a number of automatically funded programs into programs financed only voluntarily.

While the report noted the damage caused by the scandals, it emphasized that that one of the consequences was that the top U.N. leadership realized the need to make fundamental changes. "Real change may now be possible without resorting to the stick of U.S. financial withholding," the report said.

In its only reference to Annan's term in office, it said that a "fundamental criterion" in selecting his successor when his term is completed at the end of 2006 should be "management capability."

The report said that the institution's current problems stemmed from the politicization and bureaucratic unwieldiness of decision-making in the General Assembly and Security Council and the "absurd level of member state micromanagement" as much as they do from failures in Annan's leadership.

While crediting Annan with proposing major change, the report faulted him for lack of follow-through. "The secretary-general has often put forward good-sounding reform proposals then failed to push hard against predictable resistance from staff and member states," it states.

Annan has proposed a sweeping set of changes and made them the centerpiece of a meeting of more than 170 heads of government scheduled to be held at the U.N. headquarters this fall that he is promoting as the largest gathering of world leaders in history.

The proposals include an expansion of the membership of the Security Council, the creation of a peace-building commission to restore postwar societies, an effort to define terrorism as a crime that cannot be justified as an act of freedom-fighting or political resistance, and the replacement of the discredited Human Rights Commission with a smaller and more powerful Human Rights Council that would effectively deny membership to notorious rights violators.

The panel took no position on the proposed Security Council expansion, but in addition to endorsing Annan's call for the Human Rights Council, it urged that its members be "ideally composed from democracies."

It also urged the creation of a new position of ambassadorial rank in the U.S. mission with the responsibility of helping to organize a caucus of democracies within the United Nations and of promoting the extension of democratic rights throughout the member states.

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