NEWSMAKER WITH AMBASSADOR RICHARDSON
JULY 28, 1997
Since he assumed his position as U.S. ambassador to the UN, Bill Richardson has been in negotiations as far away as the Congo and as close as Capitol Hill.
MARGARET WARNER: In this new job he has served as the President's special envoy to help negotiate the transition to a new government in the democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire. He's also been the Clinton administration's point man in trying to persuade Congress to pay off America's outstanding debt to the United Nations.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
July 16, 1997:
UN General Secretary Kofi Annan discusses his plan to reform the United Nations.
May 9, 1997:
Bill Richardson speaks with Elizabeth Farnsworth about the power struggle in Zaire.
May 5, 1997:
U.N. Commissioner for Refugees, Sadaka Ogata, discusses the terrible plight of Rwandans in Zaire.
April 9, 1997:
Herman Cohen, former Assistant Secretary of State for President Bush, discusses the possible departure of President Mobutu with Jim Lehrer.
March 17, 1997:
After the fall of Kisangani, Zaire's third largest city, the country's future remains in the balance.
February 17, 1997:
A look at the unravelling situation in Zaire and Central Africa.
December 26, 1996:
Charlayne Hunter-Gault focuses on Zaire, providing historical perspective to the profound discontent
Browse the Online NewsHour's Africa index.
View the Online NewsHour's United Nations coverage.
Africa News Service, a non-profit media organization has regularly updated stories and links on Zaire, and other African nations.
The University of Pennsylvania's Zaire page compiled by the African Studies Department.
Welcome, Mr. Ambassador. You have finally gotten the Senate to pass a bill to pay at least part of the U.S. debt to the U.N., but attaching a lot of conditions, involving downsizing UN activities and personnel and also reducing future U.S. obligations. Can you sell that to the other UN members?
BILL RICHARDSON, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations: Margaret, I believe we can. The President's policy of linking reform measures at the UN, alongside with paying our debt, I think has resulted in a bipartisan effort that we can live with, not perfect, that involves paying off the debt over a three-year period, close to 90 percent of it, coupled with some serious reforms that America wants, a smaller, leaner UN, consolidation, consistent with the new secretary-general's reform efforts. At this very moment, House & Senate negotiators are meeting on this bill, which we hope will be completed very soon, and we can put this issue behind us, paying our bills, having serious reform at the UN, and using the United Nations as a positive tool for America's foreign policy interests. I think we're on the way to resolving this problem.
It's going to take an effort at the UN to sell it because it involves the United States wishing to pay a lesser assessment from 25 to 20 percent of UN dues that is more reflective of international economic conditions, and at the same time, other significant reforms that will make the UN more effective, more efficient, smaller, more efficient in going into peacekeeping operations, human rights, refugee issues, and many other basic functions that the UN does so well.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, told reporters that a lot of other members of the UN are offended, was his word, at what they see as sort of a unilateral U.S. declaration of what it will or won't do. What are you finding? What are they telling you in their private talks with them?
BILL RICHARDSON: Well, in my private talks I believe that the 184 other members of the UN are rooting for us to have a successful negotiation with Congress. They know it's been a difficult three years where the UN has not received its three-year arrears from the United States. But I believe that in the end, after we negotiate this package with Congress, which I believe is a moderate package, not entirely perfect, that in the end, the members of the United Nations will want an active America in the UN; they'll know we've been a constructive force, not just in peacekeeping but in the reform area, in the human rights area, in the refugee area, but also they will recognize that if we put this issue behind us, the issue of arrears, we can all focus as an international community on the big problems affecting us, where the UN can be effective, such as international terrorism, drugs, nuclear non-proliferation, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, environmental degradation, the plight of women, areas of international concern that multilaterally through the UN the United States, by marshaling forces on a multilateral basis, can more effectively deal with these problems.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Sticking with the politics of getting this deal done, when Mr. Annan, Secretary-General Annan, came out with his reform plan about--earlier this month, it was immediately criticized by Sen. Helms' staff and others. Do you think it meets the sort of conditions or requirements that these congressional Republicans want to put on U.S. money to the UN?
BILL RICHARDSON: Margaret, in our view, in the Clinton administration's view, Annan's reforms are consistent with the reform package that we negotiated with Congress. It's not perfect. There are some areas there, for instance--there's a new division on disarmament. There's a revolving fund that we're concerned about. But on the whole, Annan had staff cuts, consolidation, cabinet-style department. He brought a number of women into high policy jobs. We think that he has cut the UN by almost 10 percent. In the end, we do think that the Congress will see that this man is a reformer; that the Clinton administration is sincere and serious about reforms also, and in the end, I think the Congress will have done a good job of pressing reforms, getting the arrears paid, and moving ahead with the United Nations, where we've paid our arrears off, and we can really dedicate ourselves to resolving multilateral problems through this international institution.
MARGARET WARNER: And not to press this too much, but then it sounds like you're saying you're not encountering among other UN members the kind of resentment that Kofi Annan was saying publicly there was; that privately they're saying this is great because you're pushing the UN to reform?
BILL RICHARDSON: Well, privately, they're saying, we hope you succeed. The package is not totally negotiated. We're trying to make improvements in it. Publicly, yes, we have gotten a lot of grief from member states. They don't like the conditionality. They don't like the U.S. saying that our reforms are going to be a reduction in our assessment because they're going to have to pay more, but in the end, I believe that the international community will accept this arrears package as the best we can do, as one that is sound, and one in the end that will help reform the UN.
It's not over yet, Margaret. We have the whole summer, till September. Negotiations are going on very positively, seriously on a bipartisan basis, and I think in the end, the member states will see that the Clinton administration has made a good faith effort; that the Republican Congress has cooperated; and that we will have paid off 90 percent of the debt with some significant and good reforms for the UN.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let's switch to the Congo. When you met with Laurent Kabila, the rebel leader who's become the president, six weeks ago, you said you thought you had a real breakthrough in terms of his commitment to democratization and human rights. What's your assessment now?
BILL RICHARDSON: Well, the jury is still out on Kabila. The next step has to be whether he allows full access for a UN investigative team that has gone in there to look at some very serious reports of massacres, repatriation, and refugee problems. The next step has to be Kabila respecting human rights, continuing his efforts to have elections in two years, having a bipartisan cabinet, not having these riots where there are alleged reports of killings.
The jury is still out on this guy. The United States and the international community are prepared to help him but only if he pursues significant political, economic, and social reforms, and these human rights issues. If he doesn't, he's going to end up isolated. So far, the jury's still out. He made some positive steps. I say let's wait until this UN team is in there. There's been an advance team. They're about to go in, appointed by the Secretary-General. Let's see how Kabila reacts to them. That's going to be his big testing ground. If he is reluctant to give them full access and plays games with the team, as he has in the past, he doesn't live up to the commitment he made to me and to Secretary-General Annan and in the international community, then he's going to be isolated, and he's not going to get help.
MARGARET WARNER: Human Rights Watch and some other human rights groups were critical of Secretary-General Annan for essentially letting Kabila, if not dictate the membership of this investigative commission, to reject the first choice to head it. What's your view on that? Did Annan do the right thing, or should--
BILL RICHARDSON: I believe Annan was pragmatic and did the right thing. What happened was the previous human rights team got into horrendous negotiations with Kabila. Both sides lost credibility with each other, and the issue was going to be, is there going to be a team or not? Annan chose to name a team headed by distinguished UN human rights investigators. It's going to happen. It's not the perfect solution because the Kabilas of the world should not be able to dictate who investigates or doesn't. I think Annan was being pragmatic. We supported him in that effort, and we hope that Kabila totally gives access to this team that is looking at the massacres. If he doesn't, then there are going to be some very negative repercussions on Kabila and the way the international community can respond to help him.
MARGARET WARNER: Finally on Haiti, the UN mission, peacekeeping mission after three years, is supposed to end this Thursday, but the Secretary-General wants to extend it for four more months. You were just down there. Why now? Why is it necessary to do this?
BILL RICHARDSON: We need four more months of an international presence, of a UN presence, mainly to train local police there. We believe that four more months will allow us to get a very young, inexperienced Haitian national police to get the necessary mentoring and training. We believe after the four months there can be a reduced UN presence. We are confident in the Security Council in the next couple of days that we will get the mandate to renew it for four more months. The Russians and Chinese have agreed to support us. We believe that this investment in Haiti has resulted in a more peaceful, stable Haiti.
There are still problems there, but if we pull out prematurely, not complete this police training, appear to be just leaving lock, stock, and barrel, without a foundation that develops democratic institutions there, elections, a lot of other important civilian implementation measures, civilian police so that there can be law and order in a country that has a lot of crime problem, that we would be premature in leaving, but we're confident through American leadership and Canadian leadership and others that we've managed to keep the presence of the UN for four more months, and we think that's going to help enormously in rebuilding Haiti.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you, Mr. Ambassador, very much for being with us.
BILL RICHARDSON: Thank you.