Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright assured foreign leaders today that a speech delivered here last week by conservative Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) did not reflect the U.S. government's view of the United Nations.
"On behalf of the president, let me say that the Clinton administration . . . believes that most Americans see our role in the world and our relationship to this organization quite differently than does Senator Helms," Albright told a U.N. Security Council meeting on the war in Congo.
In an address last Thursday that apparently was intended to underscore Congress's willingness to work more closely with the U.N., Helms accused the world body of seeking to encroach on U.S. sovereignty and showing "a lack of gratitude" toward the United States. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he also threatened an American withdrawal from the organization if it failed to meet a series of conditions, including a reduction in the U.S. share of its budget.
While agreeing with some of Helms's specific criticisms of the U.N., U.S. officials have been trying to repair any diplomatic damage. On Friday, Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) assured U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and foreign delegates that Helms's visit to New York actually marked a positive turning point in congressional relations with the U.N.
"Helms's concern about U.S. sovereignty is totally misplaced," said Biden. "It is not shared by the vast majority of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, who don't even contemplate withdrawing from the United Nations."
Albright attempted a similarly mixed message.
"Chairman Helms is a man of conviction, and a strong advocate of a distinct point of view about the United Nations and America's relationship to it," Albright said. "So let me be clear: Only the president and the executive branch can speak for the United States.
"We strongly support the United Nations Charter and the organization's purpose . . . and we recognize its many contributions to our own interest in a more secure, democratic and humane world," she said.
Albright's remarks came as the United States and other Security Council members faced accusations from African leaders that the U.N. is too slow to undertake peacekeeping operations in Africa. Seven African heads of state are attending a Security Council summit on a possible peacekeeping mission in Congo, site of Africa's largest and most complex war, involving at least seven nations and a handful of armed groups. Last July, the key belligerents signed a cease-fire agreement, known as the Lusaka accord, that calls for U.N. peacekeepers to oversee the withdrawal of foreign forces and the disarmament of armed factions.
The United States has been reluctant to approve the mission because of persistent violations of the cease-fire. Albright, presiding over the summit, said the Clinton administration would seek $1 million from Congress to foster dialogue in Congo. But she also urged Africans to do more to halt what she described as "Africa's first world war."
Charging the council with a double standard in its response to conflicts in Africa and the Balkans, where NATO committed troops and spent billions of dollars, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe said: "This Security Council has been observing the situation in the Congo from afar for too long. The message is: peacekeepers now!"