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Tunes change during the U.N. anniversary fete

Things were different in the early days of the United Nations. You wouldn't believe what went on.

Self-respecting countries paid their dues on time. U.N. censorship of its own history was unknown. Meetings of the Security Council were open to the press. Rebels against foreign conquest were permitted to walk the corridors. The U.S. described tyranny as tyranny; the cash register did not entirely rule Western diplomacy.

For most of the U.N.'s first decade, I was a New York Times reporter at the U.N.'s various meetings places _ Rockefeller Center, Hunter College in the Bronx, the Henry Hudson Hotel, Flushing, Lake Success. Then it settled down on the East River. A pity _ wandering around with heavy suitcases, nobody wanting you much, makes for less blather.

I don't go there often now. After so long reporting from the U.N., the sight of diplomats around a table makes me want to run off again to Kashmir.

But my answer to whether the world would be better off without the U.N. still is, "Don't be a boob." Its existence helped shorten or prevent several wars _ between India and Pakistan, in Korea, perhaps in Cambodia, in Central America. And it brought food and vaccine, a touch of human decency to millions.

In this 50th anniversary year, scores of studies will be printed on how to reform it. Most will be about what the whole U.N. could do; they won't happen. So as my anniversary gift I present some ideas that could be carried out by the U.S. government and freedom-minded officials of the U.N. themselves.

Wasn't that what the U.N. was supposed to be about? Human freedom? From the first day the Soviet empire and its veto might have made total mockery of that _ but couldn't quite.

The U.N. simply is the expression of the will and power of the member nations. There was not enough of either to roll back Soviet imperialism in the Nuclear Age.

But meeting after meeting, American delegates such as Daniel P. Moynihan and Eleanor Roosevelt, and the presidents who appointed them, used the U.N. to rip the political hide off Soviet tyranny. We even put our powers of tariff and refuge where our mouths were. Think where the world might be now if the U.S. had not stood up then at the U.N. but kneeled as it does now before China and its cheap consumer goods.

First idea, to Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Call in U.N. officials responsible for overseeing the forthcoming commemorative history of the U.N. Order them to reinstate the 70-odd revisions and deletions they commanded from its authors. Among them were deletions of the name of those countries censored for human rights violations and a passage about freedom by the Dalai Lama! What can China do, Mr. Secretary General? Bust you to civilian by vetoing a second term? A medal!

Now, a gift to President Clinton. Tell your U.N. delegation you are sick and tired of the following:

Closed Security Council meetings; end them or boycott them. Hounding journalists from Taiwan. The total absence of the Taiwanese government. Barring Tibetans. At the old U.N., I met representatives of a dozen independent movements _ including Indonesia when it was under Dutch rule and North Africa under France.

And Clinton can announce that he will pull out the U.S. delegation to the upcoming world meeting in Beijing about human rights _ unless China allows full access to Tibetans and other people they do not like, and unless they allow non-governmental organizations to gather for that meeting in Beijing, not shove them off to some spot hours away.

Could Sen. Bob Dole kindly encourage Clinton by saying he certainly would do such a thing if he gets to the White House?

But, gentlemen, to get into the ball park you have to buy a full-price ticket. The U.S. now is more than $1.1-billion in U.N. arrears. Pay it, just to get the blush off our national face.

This column is dedicated to Harry Wu. For voicing dissent he served almost two decades in Chinese political prison camps. Later from the United States, he made his way back to the camps to tell the world yet again about torture and slavery.

Last week Wu, now a U.S. citizen, was arrested at the Hong Kong frontier. He is a prisoner of China once more as we dance the anniversary dance.

New York Times News Service