Washington — In moves to discipline a large United Nations organization, the Reagan administration's "point man" has been a young, virtually unknown, but highly persistent assistant secretary of state.
It is yet to be determined whether Gregory J. Newell will carry the day in the administration's current clash of voices over what to do about UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization).
Mr. Newell, who does not want to get out ahead of Secretary of State George P. Shultz, is declining to comment on what he has recommended to Mr. Shultz. But other US sources say the assistant secretary has advised Shultz to decide in favor of an American withdrawal from UNESCO. He is supported by UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick. A decision by Shultz is expected before the end of the year.
Some US congressman, who in the past have criticized the administration's handling of United Nations issues, fear that UNESCO may be the first on a "hit list" of specialized UN agencies from which the United States might withdraw.
But those in the State Department who advocate a withdrawal from UNESCO make it clear that they view the Paris-based organization as by far the most inefficient, wasteful, and unproductive of these specialized agencies. These officials say that it would not be the US intention to withdraw from other UN organizations.
UNESCO, not to be confused with the highly praised UNICEF, was established in 1946 to spread the benefits of nonideological science education, and culture throughout he world. The Reagan administration says the organization has strayed far from its original purpose.
A year and a half ago, Assistant Secretary Newell ordered a review of 96 international groups. In 95 cases, State Department officials say, Mr. Newell is now recommending continued, and more effective, US participation. That leaves UNESCO as the one case in which Newell is said to have given up hope for reform.
State Department advocates of withdrawal are hoping a pullout from UNESCO will have a "ripple effect" throughout the United Nations system, causing other UN agencies to take more seriously Reagan administration recommendations that they control budget expansion, hire more Americans, and engage in a variety of reforms to increase efficiency. A State Department official described the anticipated ripple effect in this way: "If we drop out of UNESCO, you will see a lot of organizations straighten out their act."
As some State Department officials see it, the cost of withdrawing from UNESCO will be minimal. Protests will be heard from Congress, but mostly from a relatively small number of liberals, they say. They calculate that once the move is explained and the rhetoric dies down on Capitol Hill, the move out of UNESCO will be popular among most congressmen and their constituents. For one thing, withdrawal would save the United States more than $45 million a year. The US contributes a quarter of UNESCO's two-year budget, which is $374 million for 1984-85. Ofthe many international organizations, UNESCO has had one of the fastest-growing budgets.
But two Republican liberals said in separate telephone interviews that an administration withdrawal from UNESCO would be extremely damaging to the American national interest. One of them, Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. of Maryland, points to work by UNESCO, which he has been involved in, on the protection of "intellectual property." Mr. Mathias, chairman of a Senate subcommittee on copyrights, patents, and trademarks, says UNESCO was doing productive work on agreements to prevent the theft of everything from copyright books to satellite signals.
"I think UNESCO does good work," Mathias says. "That doesn't mean that I agree with everything they do. . . . Sure you could find a UNESCO reading program which is slanted in one direction or the other, but the important thing is that they are working on the problem.
Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa, ranking Republican member of a House subcommittee overseeing UNESCO, asserted that to withdraw from the organization would be to engage in "cultural isolationism. Mr. Leach calls UNESCO's fight against illiteracy as an example of constructive work. He adds that the US has made progress in blocking UNESCO from applying a code that would restrict the world's press.
Other UNESCO supporters on Capitol Hill point to work the organization has done in ocean exploration, water purification, and the preservation of antiquities, including the city of Venice and the monuments near the Aswan Dam in Egypt. But such supporters appear to be a minority in the Congress.
Assistant Secretary Newell has not begun to lobby against UNESCO on Capitol Hill, apparently because, as he put it in an interview late last year, "I believe in the George Shultz approach, that is, that you just go about your work quietly."
But the soft-spoken Newell has amassed a huge 700-page report, which he first commissioned six months ago, on UNESCO failings. In an interview in late October, Newell was already arguing that UNESCO was the most badly managed of all the international organizations. At the time, Newell argued UNESCO's budget was out of control. But the assistant secretary spoke well of progress made in holding down costs in some other international organizations. And he praised some of the UN's past peacekeeping missions.
Newell was criticized by some when he first took over as assistant secretary for international organization affairs in June, 1982, because of a lack of foreign affairs experience. He had traveled to Europe as a Mormon missionary.
Since coming to the State Department, however, Newell has become an expert on UNESCO. He declines to comment on the contents of his report to Secretary of State Shultz, but sources outside his office say that it attacks UNESCO on half a dozen major points: Among them, UNESCO is charged with engaging in a high degree of "politicization," including a pro-Soviet bias and repeated attacks on Israel. One of the main charges is that the organization's leadership has pushed for codes which would impose Orwellian-style "freedoms" on the press and other institutions. UNESCO's budget and management practices are described in the Newell report to Shultz as "atrocious."