John Bolton, Washington's new ambassador to the United Nations, has called for wholesale changes to a draft document due to go before a UN summit next month aimed at reshaping the world body.
Mr Bolton, a long-standing UN critic who was given a temporary appointment by George Bush three weeks ago after the United States Senate failed to agree on his nomination, has proposed 750 amendments to the draft and called for immediate talks on them.
The Bolton amendments...seek to play down the emphasis given to alleviating poverty, and expunge all references to the millennium development goals, including the target for wealthy countries to donate at least 0.7 % of national income to the developing world.
America currently gives less than 0.2% in such aid.
The 29-page document has been drawn up by a committee under the UN general assembly president, Jean Ping of Gambia, over the past year, during which time several drafts have been circulated.
Critics complained that the US objections had come towards the end of the drafting process, with only three weeks to go before the summit.
But Benjamin Chang, a spokesman for the American team at the UN, said Mr Bolton had simply been restating long-held US opinions. "Those are not new positions; surprise positions," he said. "We've been engaged in this process, since the first meeting."
The Bolton amendments, published in the US press, seek to play down the emphasis given to alleviating poverty, and expunge all references to the millennium development goals, including the target for wealthy countries to donate at least 0.7 % of national income to the developing world. America currently gives less than 0.2% in such aid.
The changes would also scrap provisions in the draft calling for action against global warming, and remove endorsements of the international criminal court and the comprehensive test-ban treaty - both of which are opposed by the Bush administration.
Instead, Washington is pushing for more emphasis on international measures against terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Mr Ping's office said it was setting up a "core group" of 30 member states, including the US, to begin talks on Monday in an effort to reach agreement on the draft statement before the leaders of more than 170 countries begin arriving in New York on September 14.
"The document was taking good shape," said one European diplomat. "Of course, we wanted to build up some parts without watering down others, but there is a lot of posturing going on at the moment."
The diplomat did not attribute the last-minute nature of the US objections to the arrival of the hawkish Mr Bolton, but suggested: "It's a question of the Americans just getting their act together. Instructions from Washington keep changing."
Mr Chang said the scale and range of the US comments represented the administration's commitment to the future of the organisation.
They were taking the process "very seriously, and we're not apologising for it", he said. "We are treating every step as thoroughly as possible because we contribute a lot to the UN and we expect a lot to come out of this process."
In a letter to his fellow ambassadors, Mr Bolton was quoted as urging quick action on the American proposals.
"Time is short. In order to maximise our chances of success, I suggest we begin the negotiations immediately - this week if possible," he wrote.
Farhan Haq, a spokesman for the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, said ferment over the draft statement was a positive sign. "We actually feel fairly confident that member states are taking UN reform seriously," said Mr Haq. "There is stepped-up activity everywhere, and very serious high-level negotiating."
Mr Bolton has said the US would be ready to scrap the deal altogether if no consensus was achieved, leaving only a short statement for the summit to agree on, or to break the agreement into sections to give member states a choice of which parts to support.
But a UN official said yesterday he remained confident that a final agreement could be achieved in time for the summit. "As you get closer to crunch time, the more likely it is that this nation or that nation stakes out a harder position. There's always that kind of tactical negotiation," he said. But he added: "No one wants to have a stalemate that leaves the status quo intact."
© 2005 Guardian Newspapers Ltd.