Kofi Annan's annus horribilis

After a trying year punctuated by calls for his resignation by United States lawmakers, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan says the US and the UN have to find a way to put their disputes behind them and move ahead with plans to reform the world body and meet poverty-reduction goals.

At a year-end news conference on Tuesday, Annan said he does not intend to step down over allegations of corruption in the Iraqi oil-for-food programme, which have “cast a shadow” over the UN and especially over its relations with Washington.

“The US needs the UN, and the UN needs the US,” the secretary general said. “And we need to find a way of working together.”

“The current criticisms and the attacks have not been helpful for the relationship, regardless of which quarter it comes from, and we need to find a way of putting those kinds of acrimonious discussions behind us and move on,” he added.

Relieved at the end of a “horrible year”, Annan said he has “the confidence and support” of the 191 UN member states and expressed hope that the oil-for-food investigation—led by former US Federal Reserve chairperson Paul Volcker—will “help clear the air”.

Annan refused to back the view of his son, Kojo, who said in a statement to CNN last week that the oil-for-food attacks were “a witch-hunt from day one as part of a broader Republican political agenda” in the US.

Kojo is being investigated by Volcker because he worked in Africa for a company that had an oil-for-food contract, but he denies any involvement.

The secretary general said he and the UN have been subjected to persistent attacks from “certain quarters” that he didn’t identify, but also to constructive criticism, “which we accept”.

He refused to accept any personal responsibility until the Volcker investigation is completed in mid-2005, but said: “When you run this sort of operation it is inevitable that their may be some mistakes and things that could have been done better.”

Annan said the allegations have overshadowed the relief that the oil-for-food programme brought to million of Iraqis.
Launched in December 1996, it allowed Saddam Hussein’s regime to sell unlimited quantities of oil provided the money went primarily to buy food, medicine and humanitarian goods and pay reparations to victims of the 1991 Gulf War.

A report in October by top US arms inspector Charles Duelfer said Saddam was able to “subvert” the $60-billion programme to generate an estimated $1,7-billion in revenue outside UN control from 1997 to 2003.

Saddam also raked in more than $8-billion from illicit oil deals with Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Egypt—and billions more, according to US congressional investigators.

After Senator Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican leading one legislative probe, called for Annan’s resignation last month, many countries rushed to support him—but it took until December 9 for US ambassador John Danforth to announce Washington’s backing.

“On the question of my resignation, let me say that I have quite a lot of work to do,” Annan said, stressing plans for a summit in September next year where world leaders will address global security threats in the 21st century.

He expressed hope that Volcker will “find out the truth as quickly as possible” so “we can all calm down” and world leaders can focus not only on the decisions needed to reform the UN, but on implementing key development goals—including halving the number of people living in poverty by 2015.

Annan disclosed that Volcker’s first report in January will be accompanied by reports of UN internal audits of the oil-for-food programme, which have been sought by Coleman and other US congressional investigators.

“There’s no doubt that this has been a particularly difficult year, and I am relieved that this annus horribilis is coming to an end,” he said

He was using the Latin words for a “horrible year” that Queen Elizabeth II used to describe 1992, when the marriages of her sons, Prince Charles and Prince Andrew, were breaking up and her home at Windsor Castle suffered a serious fire.

The one thing that “will make my nights and days better”, Annan said, is less killing of innocent civilians and an end to conflicts in Africa, especially in Sudan, and in Iraq.—Sapa-AP

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