- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 16, 2004

Embattled U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday said he was determined to expose corruption in Iraq’s oil-for-food program, promising to make public the findings of a U.N.-sponsored inquiry into the scandal.

Mr. Annan, who has faced calls from critics in Congress to step down, also insisted during a quick trip to Washington that he did not feel “snubbed” by his failure to meet with President Bush.

The administration has given Mr. Annan only a subdued and belated vote of confidence as charges of billions of dollars of payoffs and kickbacks in the oil-for-food program have swirled around top U.N. officials and even Mr. Annan’s son.

The secretary-general met with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, discussing, among other things, the role of the United Nations in next month’s Iraqi elections and a just-released report calling for wide-ranging reform of the world body.

“I don’t feel snubbed,” said Mr. Annan of his failure to meet Mr. Bush, noting the two have met on many previous occasions and talk by telephone.

“I don’t feel that if I come to Washington and we don’t get a chance to meet, I should feel offended or snubbed. This is the nature of things,” he said after a brief meeting with Mr. Powell.

Mr. Annan prefaced an address on U.N. reform to the Council on Foreign Relations by again vowing to press forward with the internal investigation into the oil-for-food scandal.

He also said military action by individual states with the support of the U.N. Security Council would provide greater international backing.

“Where one takes action with support of the council and the legitimacy of the council, its acceptability around the world usually is much larger,” Mr. Annan told the group.

“If one country is allowed to take action … is that a privilege allowed [to] all countries?”

Although Mr. Annan’s comments were general, they were likely a reference to the U.S.-led war on Iraq last year, which the secretary-general and many in the world body criticized.

Congressional investigators have complained about a lack of openness in the U.N. probe, but Mr. Annan called the inquiry, headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, “the most far-reaching in the history of the United Nations.”

“All U.N. staff have been instructed to cooperate fully with the inquiry or face disciplinary measures, including dismissal,” Mr. Annan said. “The Volcker report will be made public once I receive it, and I will act on its findings.”

Preliminary findings are due next month.

The oil-for-food program was designed to allow Iraq under Saddam Hussein to use oil sales to buy food and humanitarian supplies while remaining under strict economic sanctions.

Congressional investigators now say Saddam was able to steal as much as $20 billion despite U.N. oversight of the sanctions, through both oil smuggling and kickbacks from companies and officials involved in the program.

Mr. Annan’s son has been linked to the scandal. Kojo Annan worked for a Swiss company that helped monitor some oil-for-food shipments, and he was servicing contracts in the program for far longer than U.N. officials initially said.

Kojo Annan this week denounced what he called a “witch hunt” by congressional U.N. critics, but the revelations have put further heat on his father, whose second five-year term expires in December 2006.

Noting the overflow crowd that came to hear his speech at the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday, Mr. Annan wryly observed, “I must have been in the news lately.”

Mr. Annan still enjoys wide backing abroad, with both the Caricom coalition of Caribbean countries and the European Union this week signaling their support.

But the Bush administration has taken a far more grudging line, with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Danforth offering public support for Mr. Annan nearly a week after Sen. Norm Coleman, the Minnesota Republican leading a Senate probe of the oil-for-food program, demanded that Mr. Annan step down.

The U.N. chief has angered top U.S. officials by declaring the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq “illegal,” and administration officials have expressed frustration at the reluctance of the United Nations to expand its mission in support of Iraqi elections next month.

Mr. Powell did not volunteer an endorsement of Mr. Annan after their meeting yesterday, saying only in answer to a reporter’s question, “As we have noted earlier, we have confidence in the secretary-general.”

“We want to get to the bottom of [the oil-for-food program] as quickly as we can, and it is in our mutual interest to do so,” Mr. Powell said.

On Iraq, Mr. Powell said Mr. Annan reported the United Nations is “on track” in its program to support crucial presidential and parliamentary votes set for next year. U.N. experts have helped train 6,000 Iraqi election workers and are recruiting 130,000 polls workers for the vote.

But U.N. staffers remain traumatized by the August 2003 Baghdad suicide bombing that killed 22 U.N. officials, including Mr. Annan’s top lieutenant, Sergio Vieira de Mello. U.N. officials now say there will only be about 25 international staffers in Iraq for the January presidential vote — far fewer than U.S. officials would like.

Mr. Annan said yesterday the United Nations was “on track with technical preparations.”

But, he cautioned, “there are other aspects of the elections which the Iraqi government will have to take care of, particularly the context in which the elections are held — security and the political environment.”

Mr. Annan also endorsed a wide-ranging internal reform program that calls for an expansion of the Security Council and the system that gives only the “Permanent Five” nations — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — a veto on Security Council decisions.

He predicted there would be intense debates about the change, but said there was a growing consensus that the current arrangements did not reflect global realities of the 21st century.

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