- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2007

PARIS (AP) — The highest-ranking American at UNESCO has resigned before a key audit of contracts that his office awarded, saying opponents thwarted his reform drive at the U.N. organization and even threatened to kill him.

Peter Smith, a former Republican congressman from Vermont, sent a letter to UNESCO Director Koichiro Matsuura saying that fierce opposition to his reforms and the “negative climate” forced him to quit. Mr. Smith had served as associate director general for education.

A copy of the letter, dated Monday, was obtained by the Associated Press on Friday.

Mr. Smith’s departure was the latest bump in the U.S. relationship with the United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organization. The United States quit UNESCO in 1984, calling it corrupt and anti-Western, then rejoined in 2003.

Mr. Smith, former president of California State University, Monterey Bay, joined UNESCO in 2005 and led a reform drive of its education sector.

“There is a small group who have worked steadily since the unveiling of the reform recommendations to kill the reforms by discrediting me, attacking you and demonizing America,” he wrote.

Mr. Smith said the opposition culminated in a written death threat in February, and that UNESCO’s follow-up to the threat was “inadequate.”

UNESCO spokeswoman Sue Williams said the organization immediately contacted French police about the death threat and that police began a criminal investigation.

“UNESCO considers it did everything possible under the circumstances,” she said.

Responding to Mr. Smith’s assertions that opponents sought to thwart his reforms, Miss Williams said: “Those are his perceptions of the situation. Reform is always a difficult process; there are always people who are unhappy with parts of it. There has also been very outspoken support for the reform process and its results so far.”

Mr. Smith’s resignation comes before the publication of an audit that is expected to be highly critical of how UNESCO awarded contracts for its education sector reform.

The audit by the French Cour des Comptes, UNESCO’s external auditor, will be released next week.

French business magazine Capital reported that Mr. Smith awarded seven contracts worth a total of $2 million to Washington-based Navigant Consulting without proper oversight from UNESCO’s Executive Board.

A UNESCO education official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the case is pending, told the AP that the Navigant contracts were among those being audited.

Mr. Smith, in his letter, called these accusations an example of the “lies, unfounded rumors and innuendo” used to discredit him.


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