President Clinton on Monday marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations with a declaration that the organization had become bloated, wasteful and often ineffective.
"The U.N. must be reformed," Clinton told several hundred delegates to commemorative ceremonies in San Francisco's War Memorial Opera House, where the U.N. Charter was signed 50 years ago as World War II was drawing to a close.
But the president rejected what he called the "siren song of the new isolationists" and said the administration would continue to support the United Nations' good works even as it demands improvements in their execution.
Clinton's 25-minute address came at the conclusion of a glittering ceremony that included a choral interlude, a specially commissioned poem by Clinton court poet Maya Angelou and speeches by Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Secretary of State Warren Christopher. Television newsman David Brinkley served as master of ceremonies.
The audience included representatives of all 185 U.N. member states and a number of delegates to the original conference that drew up the U.N. Charter five decades ago. Among them was Sen. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., who at the time was a young Coast Guard officer serving as an aide to the American delegation.
The commemoration was a poignant attempt to recapture some of the idealism that marked the founding of the world body in the aftermath of history's bloodiest war.
The president praised a number of U.N. successes, from child immunization programs to refugee relief efforts to peacekeeping operations in Cambodia, El Salvador and Namibia. But he said major structural changes are needed to eliminate overlapping agencies and costly bureaucracy.
The United States now provides more than 31 percent of the U.N. budget; by act of Congress, that number will fall to 25 percent next year and many in Congress want to cut the U.S. contribution more drastically. By the end of this year, the United States will owe the United Nations $1.3-billion in overdue payments for peacekeeping and daily operations, debts that many Republicans in Congress are unwilling to pay until the organization makes some sweeping reforms.
But Clinton insisted that "turning our backs on the United Nations is no solution. It would be shortsighted and self-destructive. It would strengthen the forces of global disintegration. It would threaten the security, the interests and the values of the American people."
Taiwan pursues membership: Taiwan began its most aggressive drive yet to end its outcast status Monday, offering the cash-strapped United Nations $1-billion if the world body would agree to give it membership.
The move was timed to coincide with the United Nations' 50th anniversary celebrations.
Taiwan lost its U.N. seat in 1971 to China, which views the island as a renegade province and strives to limit its membership in international forums. It would certainly veto any bid for a U.N. seat for Taiwan.
The two rivals split after the Chinese civil war ended in 1949.