Friday, September 9, 2005

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday backed Kofi Annan’s continued stewardship over the United Nations despite a scathing report on the secretary-general’s oversight of the Iraq oil-for-food program, but she said the scandal demands urgent overhaul of the U.N. secretariat.

“We believe that we will continue to work with the secretary-general, and we are confident that he will support the kinds of reforms that are needed to try and make sure that this sort of thing does not happen again,” Miss Rice said.

“We are going to continue to press management and secretariat reforms. They have to be concrete reforms, not just hortatory language about how important it is to reform,” she said. “In the light of the oil-for-food problem, I think it’s even more urgent that those get done.”

The Independent Inquiry Committee into the scandal, headed by former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker, did not personally accuse Mr. Annan of wrongdoing, but said in its Wednesday report that his “cumulative management performance” fell short of the standard the United Nations “should strive to maintain.”

Mr. Annan took responsibility for the $64 billion program’s mismanagement, saying the report’s findings are “deeply embarrassing to us all,” although he ruled out resigning his post.

Miss Rice, who briefed reporters on her visit to New York for the 60th anniversary of the United Nations next week, said “there have long been concerns about the efficiency” of the organization.

“The United States is the largest single donor to the United Nations, and we owe the American taxpayers an accounting for the fact that their tax dollars are being used well,” she said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Annan said yesterday he was concerned that agreement on a draft document for U.N. reform and other issues may not be reached in time for next week’s gathering of world leaders.

Negotiators working on the declaration, which is to be adopted by the 180 leaders expected at next week’s World Summit at the United Nations, have been focusing on issues ranging from terrorism to overhauling U.N. management.

“I am very concerned that despite some signs of progress, the work may not finish on time and the deadline will be missed,” he said.

He called for greater compromise among ambassadors from a core group of 32 nations that began negotiating a draft document two weeks ago.

Newly elevated U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton called yesterday for a “cultural revolution” in the way the United Nations does business, citing the oil-for-food scandal as an example of the need for sweeping reform.

“This is the kind of development that I think shocks our conscience in America, to see the humanitarian impulse so cynically manipulated,” Mr. Bolton said in a speech to the World Jewish Congress.

Also yesterday, Sen. Norm Coleman, a longtime critic of Mr. Annan, renewed his call for him to resign, saying the secretary-general had neither the strength, nor the ability to carry out needed reform in the wake of the oil-for-food scandal, Agence France-Presse reported.

Mr. Coleman, Minnesota Republican, came to the United Nations for talks with Mr. Bolton and other delegates to discuss U.N. reforms in the wake of the release of the Volcker report.

“Oil-for-food shows the need for reform. There was fraud, corruption, mismanagement,” Mr. Coleman said.

“I come as an advocate of a strong United Nations. If you believe in reform, it’s going to be very hard if the guy leading the charge is stained,” he said, calling Mr. Annan an “incompetent administrator.”

In addition to U.N. reform, the U.S. priorities during next week’s summit, which President Bush also will attend, include promoting trade, democracy and human rights and fighting terrorism, Miss Rice said.

“The Security Council summit will consider a resolution on the incitement of terror, and we will call for progress on the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism to establish a legal framework to deter and prosecute acts of terrorism,” she said.

The United States has been trying to make about 400 changes to a draft of a final document to emerge from the summit, and there were still many outstanding issues yesterday, five days before the forum begins on Wednesday.

But Miss Rice said: “We are working very effectively, I think, and very cooperatively with others to try and get important changes.”

She also said that, in addition to dozens of bilateral meetings she will hold with counterparts from around the world while in New York, she will participate in multilateral sessions on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and Lebanon.

Miss Rice urged U.N. Security Council members Russia and China to join the call of the United States and the European Union for Iran not to enrich uranium and abide by its Paris accord with the EU.

“Iran needs to get a message from the international community that is a unified message,” she said. “If the Iranians will not go back into the Paris agreement, then not many choices are going to be left to the international community but Security Council referral.”

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