This was the year the United States was supposed to mend relations with the United Nations - and pay its long overdue debt - in return for U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's promise of reform.

Less than two months ago, President Clinton told the 52nd General Assembly that he would work with Congress to settle our arrears - $1.3 billion by the U.N. count, $819 million by Washington's - and "put the question of debts and dues behind us once and for all."But the "grand bargain" predicted by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright never materialized. And we are still the U.N.'s biggest deadbeat.

Annan kept his side of the bargain.

His first installment of reforms, presented in March, would streamline the U.N. bureaucracy and redirect those savings to what the U.N. does best: providing relief and refuge to the world's neediest. It would also alter the organization's management culture with a code of conduct that requires financial disclosure by senior officials and makes them accountable for their job performance.

Cost-cutting measures are long overdue in an organization that has become bloated and wasteful. And performance standards are even more crucial for some U.N. bureaucrats who work only two hours a day. In the words of U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson, it is "the kind of structural reform that will help the United Nations do more, better, and for less."

Basically, Annan committed himself to cut administrative costs by a third and put the savings into a development fund for poor nations. He intends to do this by slashing 1,000 of 10,020 Secretariat jobs; merging departments that duplicate each other's efforts and reducing paperwork - the U.N. churns out nearly 2 billion documents a year at a cost of $916 per page.

His second installment of reforms, announced in July, envision a more sweeping reorganization of the U.N., packing 20 or so disparate programs under Annan's control into five "leaner and meaner" departments.

Three economic and social departments would be merged into one; a Department of Humanitarian Affairs would combine relief operations, refugees and food; peacekeeping and disarmament would fall under a Peace and Security Department; development programs, children and population would be handled by another, and the secretary general's office would be combined with legal, administrative and information into a General Services Department.

This is not good enough for our government, which has made dues reduction a key precondition for paying off the debt. Congress has already cut the peacekeeping assessment from 31 percent to 25 percent and now wants to cut the regular budget assessment from 25 percent to 20 percent. It also demands reimbursement for unbudgeted U.S. contributions to peacekeeping, such as airlifting troops and other logistical support provided by our military.

Some lawmakers have their own private agendas. Pro-lifers, for example, want to see abortion and birth control ended in all U.N.-run refugee camps before the debt is paid.

Annan agrees that the present dues structure is unfair to the United States, which pays far more than prosperous nations like Japan and Saudi Arabia. But it is not in his power to change it. That requires the approval of all 185 members of the General Assembly, who flatly refuse to consider it until Washington pays what it owes.

The Clinton administration has further muddied the waters by pushing to expand the Security Council with permanent seats for Japan, Germany and three developing countries: one each from Latin America, Africa and Asia.

This has unleashed a flood of counterproposals, fueled national rivalries and caused those who think it's a bad idea to gang up against American demands for economic reform. Worse yet, Jesse Helms, the powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is against it.

Helms doesn't want to pay off our debt. He doesn't want to expand the Security Council. In fact, he wants no U.N.