- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 19, 2006

NEW YORK — In his final press conference as U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan yesterday pleaded with capitals and critics not to judge the United Nations by the oil-for-food inquiry, but instead to appreciate its unique role as a voice for the weak, a caretaker for the helpless, and a force for peace.

Lashing out at critics, presumably in Washington, Mr. Annan said he regretted the way the oil-for-food program was “exploited to undermine the organization.”

“I think when historians look at the records, they will draw the conclusion that ‘yes, there was mismanagement and there were some U.N. staff members engaged, but the scandal, if any, was in the capitals and the 2,200 companies that made a deal with Saddam behind our backs,’ ” he said.

“And I hope historians realize the U.N. is more than oil for food. The U.N. is a U.N. that coordinates tsunami, a U.N. that deals with the Kashmir earthquake, a U.N. that is pushing for equality and … a U.N. that is fighting for human dignity.”

Over the course of an hourlong press conference that touched on Lebanon, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and U.N. administration Mr. Annan, 68, betrayed traces of frustration and indignation, as well as wistfulness and pride.

The Ghanaian national will leave his post on Dec. 31, to be replaced by South Korean Ban Ki-moon.

Asked for his top achievements, Mr. Annan praised the organization’s focus on human rights and the acceptance of international responsibility to protect civilians when their own government cannot or will not. He also singled out the importance of the Millennium Development Goals, a 2001 effort to significantly reduce extreme poverty, illiteracy, hunger and discrimination against women.

His regrets, he said, centered on Iraq: the organization’s inability to sanction or prevent the war; the horrific 2003 bombing of the organization’s Baghdad office, and the accusations surrounding the $68 billion plan to use Saddam Hussein’s oil revenue to feed 25 million desperately poor Iraqis.

Mr. Annan spoke shortly before Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, who earlier met with the U.N. chief, told reporters he is calling for a scheduled withdrawal of American troops, and urging the United Nations to play a larger role in building his country.

On Iraq’s neighbor, Iran, which has been resisting international calls to stop its nuclear fuel enrichment program, Mr. Annan warned against military action. Speaking even as the U.N. Security Council was debating a resolution on putting sanctions on Tehran, he said military action would be “rather unwise and disastrous.”

“I believe that the council, which is discussing the issue, will proceed cautiously and try and do whatever it can to get a negotiated settlement for the sake of the region and for the sake of the world,” Mr. Annan said.

The Security Council has been negotiating a resolution that will compel Iran to stop its enrichment cycle, but Russia and China — both council members with veto powers — resist limiting what Tehran has repeatedly described as a peaceful program.

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