Global Policy Forum

G.O.P. Senator Frees Millions for UN Mission


By Tim Weiner

The New York Times
June 7, 2000

WASHINGTON, June 6 -- A Republican Senator who had blocked hundreds of millions of dollars approved by Congress for United Nations peacekeeping missions agreed today to release $50 million for peacekeepers in Sierra Leone, saying that he had forced a shift in American foreign policy.

Senator Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican, said his determination to withhold money from four United Nations peacekeeping missions -- a total of $368 million in State Department funds -- compelled the Clinton administration to alter its foreign policy, which Mr. Gregg called "surrender in the face of criminal violence" in Sierra Leone.

Mr. Gregg, chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that controls the State Department's budget, said that in the near future he might release about $95 million to the United Nations for its peacekeeping mission in East Timor. Ten days ago, he released $40 million for a third United Nations force in Kosovo. He is keeping hold of $41 million sought for a fourth mission in Congo.

The money for the peacekeeping missions in Sierra Leone and East Timor will not flow to the United Nations immediately. Rep. Harold Rogers, a Kentucky Republican and chairman of the House appropriations panel that controls the State Department budget, is blocking that money, primarily on budgetary grounds, not over deeper policy disputes. His objections may take several weeks to resolve, an aide said.

But Richard C. Holbrooke, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, said today that he and Mr. Gregg had succeeded in "forging a bipartisan foreign policy between two branches of government and two parties to get moving on Sierra Leone."

Last July, a peace agreement signed by the combatants in Sierra Leone's eight-year-old civil war gave amnesty and a share of power to rebels who had killed, raped and mutilated thousands of civilians. The rebels and their leader, Foday Sankoh, who was arrested last month in Sierra Leone, were also given control over Sierra Leone's diamond mines.

Mr. Gregg objected so strongly to this agreement, known as the Lomé accord, that he used his power as an appropriations chairman to block the transfer of the $368 million for the four United Nations peacekeeping missions.

Congress had approved the funds as part of an overall appropriation for international peacekeeping last year; the money goes to reimburse the United Nations for the American share of its peacekeeping costs. United Nations officials said today that of the $50 million in American funds earmarked for Sierra Leone, only $1 million has been spent.

Mr. Gregg's action infuriated the Clinton administration and the United Nations. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright called the senator's maneuver "a grave mistake."

But the White House has been divided over what to do about the Lomé accord and Mr. Sankoh. Now Mr. Gregg -- a leading supporter of Texas Gov. George W. Bush's presidential campaign -- has tipped the balance toward a clear rejection of the rebels and their role in Sierra Leone, administration officials said.

A letter from Mr. Holbrooke to Mr. Gregg led him to release the $50 million. The letter said that the rebels' detained leader, Mr. Sankoh, should have no political future. It said that the United Nations, the government of Sierra Leone and its African allies should try to disrupt the rebels' hold on Sierra Leone's diamonds, their main source of income. And it said that the United States must come up with a strategy to deal with Liberia's president, Charles Taylor, and with "the illicit diamond trade that fuels conflict and criminality" in the region.

Some administration officials said the letter merely clarified American policy. Regardless, Mr. Gregg said today that the letter from Mr. Holbrooke satisfied his demands. "I do not flatter myself that my 'hold' did all this," he said. "But it did give those of us who opposed the Lomé accord a chance to right a terrible wrong."

He added: "The most significant point, specific to Sierra Leone, is the recognition that the Lomé agreement empowered people who were war criminals, and that policy has been rejected.

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