- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 21, 2004

NEW YORK — U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said dozens of internal audits into the problem-plagued Iraq oil-for-food program would be released early next year, when the U.N.-appointed inquiry panel releases its preliminary assessment of the scandal.

A weary looking Mr. Annan also acknowledged that questions about the $64 billion aid program had overshadowed the United Nations’ humanitarian work this year, but he insisted he will not resign, despite the urging of several U.S. lawmakers.

“I have the confidence and support of member states,” he said during a 45-minute, traditional year-end press conference.

Mr. Annan said the subject of his resignation “never came up” during his meetings last week with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who has been nominated to succeed Mr. Powell.

The 55 oil-for-food audits, conducted by the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services, cover the six-year life of the program, which began in 1996. They have been keenly sought by the auditors at the Government Accountability Office and by U.S. lawmakers investigating kickbacks, bribes and fraud by then Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, aides and possibly even U.N. staffers under the program.

The reports will be released by the head of the inquiry, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

“In our discussions with Mr. Volcker, he has indicated, and we have agreed, that the documents will be released, but in an orderly fashion,” Mr. Annan said. “At logical stages, these reports will be released.”

U.N. officials seem happy to close the books on 2004, a year in which the world body has been criticized for failing to do more about postwar Iraq, genocidal violence in Sudan’s Darfur region and continuing instability in Afghanistan.

U.N. peacekeepers have been accused of sexually abusing refugees and civilian populations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and staff discontent has kept senior management on edge.

“There is no doubt this has been a particularly difficult year, and I am relieved that this annus horribilis is coming to an end,” he said, using the Latin term meaning a “terrible year.”

“Certain quarters have been quite persistent in attacking the U.N. and me, but there have also been some constructive criticism, which we accept,” Mr. Annan said.

But he added that he did not share the assessment of his son Kojo Annan — whose work for a Swiss firm involved in the oil-for-food scandal has embarrassed his father — that the United Nations’ U.S. critics were engaged in a political “witch hunt.”

But, he said later, “the current criticisms and attacks have not been helpful for the [U.S.-U.N.] relationship, regardless of which quarter they come from.”

The embattled secretary-general is pushing an ambitious reform of the 59-year-old body, seeking support among the 191-member states for a wide-ranging program to ease global poverty and unite around several core goals.

Releasing scores of internal audits of the oil-for-food program could be a step in that direction, said U.N. critics in Washington.

House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, has been seeking the documents since April, but a spokesman said the committee’s efforts have been rebuffed repeatedly.

“We’ve seen two [audits] already, and I can’t say the rest will also be grade-A, number one crime novels,” the staffer said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

“But the chairman is not happy. The United States is a dues-paying member, and [a permanent member] of the Security Council. We’d like the opportunity to see what they say.”

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