- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 15, 2004

NEW YORK — Embattled U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will visit Washington tomorrow for discussions that likely will steer clear of a simmering oil-for-food scandal that has prompted congressional calls for his resignation.

Agenda items for his talks with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice include preparations for elections in Iraq, violence in western Sudan, and peacekeeping in Haiti, according to U.S. and U.N. officials.

The issue of calls for Mr. Annan’s resignation “may just be noted,” said a senior official at the State Department, which has defended Mr. Annan, “but we are not going to plot strategy against the U.S. Congress.”

Mr. Annan has not scheduled meetings with any of the 20 members of Congress who last week signed a resolution calling for Mr. Annan to resign and for U.S. payments to the world organization to be reduced if he does not.

“This is not a PR visit to the Hill,” U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said. Asked whether the secretary would discuss the oil-for-food investigation at the State Department, Mr. Eckhard said, “We don’t want to; maybe they will want to.”

A spokesman for Sen. Norm Coleman, the Minnesota Republican who is heading the main congressional inquiry into the scandal, said yesterday the senator did not plan to meet with Mr. Annan and had not changed his mind about the secretary-general.

Mr. Coleman “still feels Mr. Annan should resign from his post as the investigation has widened into probing accusations that a member of his own family took a bribe,” the spokesman said.

Mr. Annan’s son Kojo Annan worked as a consultant to the Swiss company Cotecna, which managed the oil-for-food program, and recently acknowledged having received payments from the company for much longer than previously reported.

But he denied any wrongdoing yesterday in a written statement to CNN, the cable network reported.

“The whole issue has been a witch hunt from day one as part of a broader Republican political agenda,” CNN quoted him saying. “I have never participated directly or indirectly in any business related to the United Nations.”

U.N. officials said they expected Mr. Powell and Miss Rice would be most interested in talking with Mr. Annan about what the world body can do to help make Iraq’s Jan. 30 election successful.

Mr. Annan, for his part, wants to talk about assistance to U.N. activities in Afghanistan, Sudan and Haiti, Mr. Eckhard said.

Mr. Annan was invited to Washington to discuss U.S.-U.N. relations and possible U.N. reforms in a lunchtime lecture at the Washington branch of the Council on Foreign Relations. He will leave immediately afterward for a European Union summit in Brussels, leaving no time for courtesy calls to Congress.

Mr. Annan’s congressional critics charge that he presided over the United Nations during the biggest scandal in its history, the systematic manipulation of a humanitarian program for Iraq that appears to have lined the pockets of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and senior members of his Ba’ath Party.

That money is thought to be fueling the Iraqi insurgency that kills an average of two U.S. service members a day and is laying waste to the public infrastructure in the oil-rich nation.

At least a half-dozen investigations have been opened into the $64 billion oil-for-food program, which distributed food and other goods throughout Iraq from 1996 to 2003. So far, the United Nations is cooperating only with its own inquiry, led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

Mr. Annan has been defended against the calls for his resignation by the State Department and again on Monday by Rep. Tom Lantos, California Democrat, during a visit to the United Nations.

“I assured the secretary-general that all of us in Congress who know him continue to have the highest regard not only for his commitment to public service but his integrity and dedication to international peace and the improvement of economic conditions throughout the less-developed world,” Mr. Lantos said after meeting with Mr. Annan.

“Knowing Kofi Annan as well as I do, I know he will be the one leading the cleanup,” Mr. Lantos added.

He acknowledged that Congress is divided on how to view the United Nations.

An unabashed supporter, Mr. Lantos said Congress is “not interested at all in functioning as a body which excuses mistakes in the U.N. or by the U.N. entities such as the General Assembly.”

Brian DeBose contributed to this report in Washington.

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