- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 2, 2005

NEW YORK — The United States and other nations pushing for a leaner, more effective United Nations should expect “an ongoing” reform process rather than a dramatic restructuring at next month’s annual summit, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said yesterday.

In an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Annan said he is using the September summit, which marks the organization’s 60th anniversary, as an “opportunity to get as much achieved as possible.”

“But [reform] doesn’t come as a one-time event,” he said in a conference room off his 38th-floor office. “The U.N. search for excellence and constant improvement will continue.”

Debate has been under way for more than a decade on how to restructure the United Nations and expand the key decision-making Security Council. But Mr. Annan has seized on the milestone anniversary and the growing impatience of top contributors to give reform a burst of momentum.

President Bush has also made reform of spending and operations a top U.S. priority. “This post is too important to leave vacant any longer, especially during a war and a vital debate about U.N. reform,” he said on Monday in appointing John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations.

Looking tired after recent shoulder surgery, Mr. Annan fidgeted for most of the half-hour interview with a water glass he might once have described as half-full. He responded to questions on the oil-for-food scandal, U.N. reform and world events with a weariness that seemed bone-deep.

Asked how the world had changed since he was elected secretary-general in 1996, he said, “It’s become definitely messier and more complex and yes, more dangerous.”

“I don’t think you can put this just on globalization; there are other forces at work,” he added. “We see the violence, we see the impact of diseases, and I’m not just talking about HIV/AIDS but we saw what something like SARS can do and how quickly it traveled from Asia to Canada.”

In the interview with two newspapers and two wire services, Mr. Annan said he had not been distracted by the controversy over the oil-for-food scandal, nor was he personally disheartened by the investigation into related business dealings by his son, Kojo Annan.

“I am carrying on with my work, and pressing ahead with the reform agenda,” he said quietly. “The issues you raise are investigated by the Volcker panel, and we are waiting for the report.”

Nonetheless, he allowed, “It’s taking some time from me and some of my colleagues, but that has not prevented us from carrying on our work.”

He said he would lift the diplomatic immunity of Benon Sevan, the discredited former head of the $69 billion oil-for-food program, or any other staffer who is “found to have committed a crime.” But he bristled when asked whether he would tender his own resignation.

“The impression is created that that is the only activity of the U.N. and the only area that the U.N. manages or administers,” he said of the recent press coverage of the U.N.

“The oil-for-food program was a unique and complicated project that was given to the Secretariat to run. I have made it clear that I hope the U.N. will never be asked to run an operation of that nature again.”

Mr. Annan brightened when talk turned to his proposed Human Rights Council, a body that appears likely to replace the discredited Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.

Because the new council would meet year round and have the authority to respond to any brewing human rights threats, Mr. Annan said it could be more effective than the current body.

He also expressed hope that stronger competition for fewer seats — no more than 35 instead of 53 — would mean that fewer human rights abusers would be elected to the body.

“I hope that will also help the caliber and quality of those serving on the council,” he said. “I don’t know what other safeguards one can introduce. It’s an organization of sovereign states.”

Mr. Annan urged governments not to let the divisive question of Security Council expansion derail a larger package of changes that will make the organization more responsive to people in need.

“What is important is that the permanent representatives, at the end of the day, find a way of resolving outstanding issues and resolving them in a way that their own relationships and the long-term interests of the organization survive this process,” he said.

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