Wednesday, December 8, 2004

NEW YORK — U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday rejected a new spate of calls in the U.S. Congress for his resignation over the oil-for-food scandal that permitted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to undermine U.S. anti-terrorism efforts at the United Nations.

“I have quite a lot of work to do, and I’m carrying on with my work,” he told reporters prior to his monthly luncheon with the U.N. Security Council.

“We have a major agenda next year, and the year ahead, trying to reform this organization. So we’ll carry on,” said Mr. Annan, who has two years remaining in his term as the top U.N. diplomat.

His remarks came a day after at least 20 members of the House — 19 Republicans and one Democrat — called for Mr. Annan’s resignation and a separate group of Republicans circulated legislation that would tie U.S. funding for the United Nations to the organization’s cooperation with investigators.

Outside the United States, Mr. Annan won backing from French President Jacques Chirac and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who telephoned Mr. Annan to offer their support from a meeting in Spain.

“At a time when some voices whose underlying motives are open to question are trying to call into question the merits … of Mr. Kofi Annan, all of us in Europe, and indeed in Africa and Asia, consider it legitimate to express our gratitude and our friendship to the U.N. secretary-general,” Mr. Chirac said of the call.

Neither leader addressed the oil-for-food scandal at length. Saddam siphoned up to $21 billion from the U.N.-administered program from 1996 until his ouster in 2003 — and funneled some of the cash to opponents of the United States on the U.N. Security Council.

A number of European leaders, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, earlier had backed Mr. Annan amid growing U.S. criticism of his handling of the oil-for-food investigation.

The 53-nation African Union also has issued a letter of support for Mr. Annan, who hails from Ghana and has spent nearly his entire adult life working in the U.N. system.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John C. Danforth yesterday declined to offer support for the secretary-general, but he did stress the need for a full investigation, without prejudice for the outcome.

“An investigation is going on in a very serious manner involving fraud, bribery, and that investigation must be conducted in a very full manner, and it must be conducted with an open mind,” Mr. Danforth said.

“You can’t conduct a fair and full investigation, if, before it even takes place, or before it’s completed, you’re already proclaiming that various people are involved or not involved,” Mr. Danforth said.

President Bush has demanded “full disclosure” from the United Nations, but has declined to address the issue of whether Mr. Annan should resign.

Some of the U.S. opposition to Mr. Annan, especially among conservatives in Congress, is driven by his resistance to the 2003 Iraq war and his recent insistence that the U.S.-led invasion was “illegal.”

Moreover, the possibility that money skimmed by Saddam could be funding Iraqi insurgents who continue to kill U.S. troops has sparked concern on both sides of the aisle.

There are least five congressional inquiries into aspects of the oil-for-food program, plus an internal U.N. investigation headed by former U.S. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker.

Mr. Annan’s son Kojo worked in West Africa for a Swiss firm, Cotecna, which inspected goods for the program and is under investigation.

Washington pays more than 20 percent of the regular U.N. operating budget and has a slightly larger share of peacekeeping assessments. It is also the largest contributor to many of the U.N. aid agencies.

U.N. officials and Mr. Annan’s supporters have fended off calls for Mr. Annan’s resignation by urging critics to wait for a report by Mr. Volcker’s team.

Mr. Annan’s office has directed all offices and employees to cooperate fully with Mr. Volcker’s inquiry.

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