The United Nations wants an interest-free loan of as much as $1.3 billion from the United States as part of a plan to renovate its Manhattan headquarters building, U.N. officials said today.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan discussed the plan with President Bush during a visit to Washington on Nov. 13, and U.N. officials last week began seeking support for it at the State Department and in Congress, which would have to approve any loan, the officials said.
Before a request can be formally submitted to the U.S. government, the plan must first be approved by the 191-nation U.N. General Assembly, which is expected to vote on it in December.
The United Nations has been talking for more than two years about its capital master plan for renovating its aging landmark headquarters compound, completed in 1952. The U.N. complex is one of New York's most popular tourist sites. But inside, water drips through the roof, toxic asbestos lines ceiling tiles, heating and cooling systems are erratic and the building lacks sprinklers in case of fire.
Under the latest version of the U.N. master plan for refurbishing it, the city of New York would lend the United Nations a nearby park for construction of a new 30-story office tower that would temporarily house U.N. staff while the main U.N. secretariat building was renovated.
The original U.N. headquarters complex was built with a $65 million interest-free loan from the United States, supplemented by an $8.5 million gift from philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. That loan was paid off over a 31-year period that ended in 1982, Annan said in a recent report to the General Assembly.
But it has never publicly said it hoped to finance the entire project, estimated to cost about $1.3 billion, with an interest-free loan from Washington.
The desired arrangement is tinged with irony, as until recently the United Nations claimed the United States owed it more than $1 billion in unpaid dues. While that has now largely been settled, it still owes more than $800 million, according to the latest U.N. figures, partially disputed by Washington.