Iraq's Odious Debts

Powell lauds UN chief, in first US defense

December 3, 2004

Washington: Secretary of State Colin Powell called Kofi Annan a “good” U.N. secretary-general on Friday, after days in which Washington chose not to defend the diplomat against a U.S. senator’s demand he resign.

It was unclear whether Powell’s comments signaled genuine support for Annan, under fire over suspected corruption in the U.N.’s now-defunct Iraq oil-for-food humanitarian program, or simply aimed to soften the widespread impression Washington has no great desire to back the U.N. chief.

“Secretary-General Annan is a good secretary-general,” Powell told Reuters in the first positive comment about Annan from a top U.S. official since Sen. Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican investigating the program, said he should resign because of the suspected oil-for-food abuses.

Powell, echoing the view of President Bush – who avoided any endorsement of Annan this week – said people should wait until congressional and independent probes of the program are complete before reaching conclusions.

“We are deeply troubled by what happened (with) the oil-for-food program. There can be no question in anyone’s mind that the program was corrupted by (former Iraqi leader) Saddam Hussein,” he said.

“These investigations are not of Mr. Annan, they are of the oil-for-food program, so let’s wait and see what the results of these investigations are.”

Iraqi authorities have released intelligence suggesting Saddam exploited the program through kickbacks and surcharges, earning billions of dollars through his grip on which vendors could buy Iraqi oil and sell goods.

Saddam also used secret oil allocations to reward 1,300 individuals, government officials and political parties from more than 40 countries, according to lists drawn up in Iraq.

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