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UN reform vote improves prospect of restored US funding. Year marked by financial woes closes with promise of change

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Exhausted but generally pleased, diplomats and staff have wrapped up the UN's 41st General Assembly. It was a historic session, not for any major political victories, but for the air of crisis over the UN's own raison d'^etre - a crisis that manifested itself in serious financial troubles and earnest self-examination.

In the end, in an effort to keep the UN from going bankrupt, the General Assembly accepted unanimously a package of reforms designed to streamline the UN's operation and give major funders more say in the budgetmaking process. The passage of the resolution on reform does not end the UN's financial crisis, but it does send a signal to the world - and in particular to Capitol Hill, where the fate of more than half the United States' 1986 assessment hangs in the balance - that the UN is serious about reform.

The reform effort was precipitated by the US decision to withhold $110 million of the $210 million it owed for this year - a devastating blow to an organization whose total budget is $830 million. The US held back the funds to protest what it saw as mismanagement and anti-American bias.

Now, says US Ambassador Vernon Walters, the reform resolution, passed on Friday, ``will greatly strengthen my hand in going back to the US Congress'' to ask for restored funding.

Still, diplomats closely involved with the funding crisis say it is unlikely that Congress will restore all of the withheld funds, some of which are tied to Gramm-Rudman budget-cutting legislation.

The largest chunk of money Congress can restore is the some $42 million withheld because of the so-called Kassebaum amendment, which calls for the US to cut its contribution from 25 percent to 20 percent of the UN budget until the UN's biggest donors are given ``weighted voting'' on the budget. The US complains that the world's poorer nations, which outnumber developed nations in the 159-nation body, controlled the UN budget because of the UN's one-nation, one-vote system.

Under last week's compromise, budget decisions in a key committee must now be reached by consensus - which in effect allows veto rights to each member, large donor and small, of the 21-nation Committee for Program and Coordination. Though consensus is not weighted voting, informed observers say they believe Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R) of Kansas will ask Congress to rescind the amendment she sponsored.

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