U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who earlier angered the United States and Britain by calling the Iraq war ‘illegal,’ has upset both nations again — this time accusing them of allowing Saddam Hussein to enrich himself selling oil outside the U.N.-run oil-for-food program.
Mr. Annan set off the latest dispute on Thursday by asserting that Saddam made more money smuggling oil to Jordan and Turkey — under the noses of the United States and Britain — than he skimmed from the 1996-2003 U.N.-run oil-for-food program.
Britain took particular umbrage at Mr. Annan’s remarks, noting that a preliminary report by former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker blamed the United Nations for the debacle.
The Volcker report was very clear on where to place responsibility, Bill Rammell, a minister in Britain’s Foreign Office, said yesterday.
“Now I think the U.N. needs to learn those lessons,” Mr. Rammell said.
According to Mr. Annan’s latest account, most of the money pocketed by Saddam “came out of smuggling outside the oil-for-food program, and it was on the American and British watch.”
“Possibly, they were the ones who knew exactly what was going on and that the countries themselves decided to close their eyes to smuggling to Turkey and Jordan, because they were allies.”
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Britain was “consistently in the lead in seeking to enforce sanctions against Iraq” but the actual enforcement “was the responsibility of Iraq, all other U.N. member-states and the U.N. administration.”
“There were no occasions, which we can recall, on which the United Nations made representations to the United Kingdom” regarding smuggling activities, Mr. Straw said in London yesterday.
U.S. officials said they were somewhat puzzled by Mr. Annan’s comments, given his own son’s involvement in the corruption scandal, as well as the embarrassment suffered by Mr. Annan and the United Nations itself.
U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said yesterday they did not know why Mr. Annan had raised an old issue, which they called a “red herring.”
They said they did not want to “pick a fight” with Mr. Annan but that exemptions from U.N. sanctions that were granted to Turkey and Jordan had been implemented with the full knowledge of the U.N. Sanctions Committee and other U.N. bodies and officials.
Patrick Kennedy, a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for management and reform, explained U.S. policy during a recent Senate hearing.
“By ensuring that Jordan was not strangled by a lack of a critical resources, the Jordanian government was able to pursue policies of critical importance to U.S. national security in the region,” Mr. Kennedy said at a committee hearing in February.
“The Jordanians made clear to us that their trade would not aid Saddam’s weapons procurement programs,” he said.
A “similar consideration” was given to Turkey, Mr. Kennedy said.
This is not the first time Mr. Annan has riled the United States and Britain over Iraq.
On Sept. 15, Mr. Annan called the U.S.-led war in Iraq “illegal” because it was done without U.N. authorization.
His remarks drew a rebuke from Secretary of State Colin L. Powell the following day.
“What does it gain anyone? We should all be gathering around the idea of helping the Iraqis, not getting into these kinds of side issues,” Mr. Powell said in an interview with editors and reporters at The Washington Times.