Global Policy Forum

US Quietly Blocking UN Headquarters Renovation


By Irwin Arieff

April 6, 2006

The United States is quietly blocking the start of a long-awaited renovation of United Nations headquarters in hopes of keeping down costs, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton acknowledged on Thursday. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has asked for an authorization of $100 million in new spending to get the work under way later this year, but Washington wants to commit to just $23 million at present, Bolton said.

The plan has been languishing in the U.N. General Assembly's budget committee for the past three weeks, and diplomats said Washington was at this point the lone obstacle. "For three weeks now, the committee has been hung up on the issue, with no real word from the U.S. as to where things stand and when they might get resolved," said one diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. Bolton said: "This is not a matter of saying we are for or against the plan. What we are saying is, 'Let's do this in a responsible, prudent, graduated fashion.'"

A U.N. official, asked about the bottleneck, said only: "We hope for an early resolution so as not to delay the project." The landmark 38-story U.N. skyscraper is one of New York's most popular tourist attractions. But after 54 years, it is riddled with asbestos and lacks fire detectors, a sprinkler system and other emergency safety devices. The United Nations has been working for six years on a renovation plan for the tower. The latest proposal, estimated at $1.2 billion to $1.6 billion or more has been scaled back and stretched out to avoid moving the whole organization into temporary headquarters while the work was carried out. The renovations would be carried out in four phases, 10 stories at a time, over nine years.

The United States had offered a $1.2 billion loan at 5.54 percent to pay for the project. But Annan decided it would cost less if U.N. members kicked in the needed cash in the form of additional dues over a four- or five-year period. Because Washington pays about a quarter of the regular U.N. budget, that would make the U.S. share about $400 million. But the delays are also driving up costs, U.N. officials say.

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