By Claudia Parsons
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 11 (Reuters) - The United States urged the United Nations on Tuesday to cut spending and make tough decisions on its priorities to offset a "massive increase" in its proposed budget for the next two years.
The U.N. budget is typically settled through negotiations with major contributors like the United States and the European Union. Two years ago, Washington demanded U.N. reforms before the final figure was agreed.
U.S. ambassador Mark Wallace urged member states at a budget committee on Tuesday to delay approval of a proposed $4.2 billion initial budget until next year when full details are provided of additional items.
Such items already identified would take spending to $4.8 billion, Wallace said, and the final figure including other proposals and foreseeable costs could rise to $5.2 billion. That compares to $4.17 billion in 2006/2007.
The budget does not include peacekeeping costs which are forecast to rise from $5 billion to around $7 billion, fueled by the cost of a planned force for Darfur.
Wallace criticized what he called the "piecemeal" approach to budgeting and said U.N. budget hikes of recent years outstripped increases in the budgets of donor countries and of other international organizations.
"With the largest budget increase in history ... the credibility of the U.N. is at stake," Wallace said.
U.N. payments are assessed according to a nation’s wealth. Washington has withheld contributions in the past and has been leading a drive for more transparency and efficiency.
One diplomat said the United States had not threatened to withhold funds or make payment of its contributions conditional on reforms, as it has in the past.
Wallace proposed voting to allow the United Nations to continue its activities but postponing the final vote until early next year.
In the last two-year budget, the United States contributed around 22 percent, Japan nearly 20 percent and the nations of the European Union a combined 38 percent.
"The great challenge before us is for member states to find the political will to truly prioritize and to identify meaningful offsets or to ask the SYG (Secretary General) to make such recommendations," Wallace said.
The 27-nation European Union said earlier this year the likely total of $4.8 billion after additional items already identified was a "very substantial increase."
One EU diplomat said the bloc was concerned about the budget but did not see a need to delay the vote.