US tries to punish Vietnam by paring UN assistance

The Reagan administration has launched a vigorous, behind-the-scenes campaign at UN headquarters to cut UN humanitarian and development aid to Vietnam. This punitive action -- aimed in particular at UNICEF, FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), and UNDP (UN Development Program) -- is unlikely to succeed, most experts here say. In particular, the US opposes UNICEF's sending trucks and building schools in Cambodia.

Contrary to some reports, the US initiative is backed by none of its major allies. Essentially, it is supported by China, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

UNDP's 48-nation council is meeting next week in order to approve roughly $ 100 million in development assistance to Vietnam. US diplomats, according to reliable information, are expected to press members of its board to slash these funds in order to "punish Vietnam for its illegal occupation of Cambodia."

The board, however, is unlikely to heed this advice, according to informed sources. First of all it is unlikely to heed advice because its members are managers of UNDP's projects only in the technical sense. Real decisions on providing aid through UNDP or interrupting it are political and can be made only by the UN General Assembly. Vietnam is now a member state and even during the Vietnam war, when Vietnam did not belong to the organization, US efforts to stop UNDP from providing aid to Vietnam were unsuccessful.

Furthermore, UNDP, UNICEF, and FAO are considered to be nonpolitical agencies by the overwhelming majority of UN member states. "They should not be used as instruments of pressure in the context of bloc rivalries," says one Western diplomat.

One moderate third-world ambassador makes a point echoed by many of his colleagues: "By attempting to stop UN agencies from providing assistance and relief to Cambodia and to Vietnam, the United States is really trying to apply sanctions of sorts against Vietnam for its illegal occupation of Cambodia. How is it then that the United States is so reluctant to apply sanctions against South Africa for its illegal occupation of Namibia? If the US were consistent it would have a stronger case, morally and politically."

Last week UNICEF adopted a new $5 million relief plan for Camb odia, despite an attempt by the US to restrict it.

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