Dozens of international representatives gathered in the city where the UN was born, celebrating the organization's 60th anniversary while urging reforms in the world body in the face of stiff US criticism brought on by recent scandals.
The Bush administration signaled its discontent with the world body by sending a single representative to the commemoration. Sichan Siv, who represents the US on the UN Economic and Social Council, did not speak at the anniversary celebration.
While participants spoke passionately about human rights and the UN' successes in forging global peace, delegates emphasized that the UN must restructure and redefine its goals to counter terrorist threats.
Several representatives said it would be a mistake for the US to give up on the world body at a time when the UN is poised to institute major reforms.
"In today's world, no state can protect itself alone," former Irish president Mary Robinson, who also served as UN high commissioner for human rights, said in a speech at Grace Cathedral. "A transparent and accountable United Nations is in the United States' interest. We know the UN needs reform, but it also needs resources."
The US House of Representatives on June 17 voted in favor of withholding half of assessed US dues -- now about US$440 million a year -- if the UN failed to accomplish nearly four dozen steps to improve its accountability and root out corruption. The vote, carried mainly by Republicans, was a stern warning to UN officials, as failure to comply would also result in US refusal to support expanded or new peacekeeping missions.
The ultimatum has not sat well with UN officials, and allegations of fraud in the UN's oil-for-food program, sex abuse allegations against peacekeepers and complaints that the organization is unable to enforce its policies have fueled criticism by House Republicans.
"You can't join a club and say you won't pay your dues but you want changes," UN Undersecretary-General Shashi Tharoor said. "The U.S. simply has to engage with other countries."
Representatives at the ceremony were greeted at a San Francisco hotel by volunteers wearing 1940s Red Cross uniforms and newsboys hawking mock papers from June 26, 1945, the day 50 nations signed the charter that established the world body.
The US has not had a UN ambassador for five months.
President George W. Bush's nominee for the post, John Bolton, has been locked in a confirmation battle with Senate Democrats.
Delegates said the next few months will be crucial in revealing the US' position toward the organization. The Bush administration and legislative leaders have united behind a bipartisan task force to put forth proposals for UN internal reforms.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich and former Senate majority leader George Mitchell released a report two weeks ago that recommended the UN set up an independent auditing board and establish weighted votes on financial issues in favor of members who contribute more to the budget.