Iraq's Odious Debts

Annan’s oil-for-food crisis deepens

The Australian, by Correspondents in Washington
December 4, 2004

US President George W. Bush increased the pressure on Kofi Annan over Iraq’s oil-for-food scandal yesterday, pointedly declining to endorse the UN Secretary-General.

Mr Bush was asked twice during a media conference if he thought Mr Annan should resign, and each time he ducked the issue.

He suggested the UN inquiry into the affair, which will examine the role of Mr Annan’s son Kojo, might be compromised unless the UN chief changed its ground rules to widen its scope and allow greater transparency.

He also issued a veiled threat that the US might consider withholding its funding of the UN unless Mr Annan acted. “I look forward to the full disclosure of the facts,” he said. “It’s important for the integrity of the (UN) to have a full and open disclosure of all that took place with the oil-for-food program.”

Earlier this week leading US Republicans began calling for Mr Annan to go, and Mr Bush’s comments bore all the hallmarks of a concerted Washington campaign against the UN chief.

Norm Coleman, a Republican senator from Minnesota with close ties to the White House, first called for Mr Annan to resign in an editorial in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

He suggested Mr Annan had been less than forthcoming about the role of his son, adding that the allegations were growing, although they are unproven.

Kojo Annan, a Nigeria-based businessman, was receiving $US2,500 ($3227) a month as recently as February from Cotecna, a Swiss firm hired to monitor Iraq’s imports under the oil-for-food program. He said earlier that he had cut his ties with the company when it was awarded a UN contract in Iraq in 1998.

Republicans argue that the UN inquiry set up under Paul Volcker would never get to the bottom of the scandal, which enriched Saddam Hussein by $US20 billion, because it could not demand documents or evidence from anyone outside the UN, nor could it punish anyone who did not tell the truth.

Mr Coleman also argued that the inquiry was controlled and funded by Mr Annan, and that he alone would decide how much of it, if any, was eventually made public.

European leaders rallied around Mr Annan yesterday, with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw praising him for doing “an excellent job”.

French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder both voiced strong support for Mr Annan and Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov said the “surge of criticism” of the UN chief was “groundless, in our opinion”. But Mr Bush said Mr Annan had to act if he was to retain the credibility of the UN. “For the taxpayers of the US to feel comfortable about supporting the UN there has to be an open accounting, and I look forward to that process going forward,” he said.

Mr Annan, a Ghanaian who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001, was easily elected to a second five-year term as UN Secretary-General, which ends on December 31, 2006.

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