Why U.N. Got an Earful From Jesse Helms

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Call off the black helicopters, Kofi, and we can talk. Arch-conservative U.S. senator Jesse Helms on Thursday took his grievances with the United Nations right into the belly of the beast, when he became the first legislator from any country ever to address the Security Council. And although he warned the U.N. against trying to "impose its utopian vision" onto the U.S., the meeting may have marked the beginnings of a rapprochement between the international body and congressional Republicans. (Following his "warning," the French ambassador gently suggested that Senator Helms consider the fact that the U.N. was in no sense an independent actor, and simply represented the sum of its member states.) International diplomats may have been inclined to bite their tongues through Helms’s speech, because the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman effectively controls the U.N. purse strings — the Clinton administration was unable to pay its billion-dollar backlog of unpaid dues to the international body without striking a deal with Helms. "Inviting Helms to speak to the council was a brilliant move on the part of U.S. ambassador Richard Holbrooke," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "He's cultivating Congress and trying to promote a dialogue rather than a standoff. Of course, Helms gave a speech that showed an outdated view of the world, but the event gave both sides an opportunity to pursue a meeting of minds."

Congressional hostility to the U.N. has grown in the '90s, in part through the Clinton administration's failure to properly explain and defend the organization. "Helms still spoke of the U.N. as if it’s some kind of world government threatening U.S. sovereignty, which doesn’t reveal much understanding of international diplomacy," says Dowell. "But what may be more important is that Holbrooke is trying to draw Helms into the process of U.S. relations with the rest of the world." And being a Southern gentleman, Helms’ repaid his hosts’ hospitality by inviting all the Security Council ambassadors to Washington to address his Senate committee. Good thing Cuba’s not on the Security Council at the moment.