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Annan getting support at UN, White House cautious
Updated: 2004-12-02 09:41

U.N. staff, diplomats and African nations rallied on Wednesday to the defense of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, wounded by U.S. allegations of corruption in the now-defunct Iraq oil-for-food program.

But the Bush administration was cautious. The White House referred reactions to U.S. Ambassador John Danforth, who said earlier, "I don't think the United States government rushes to judgment before all the facts are in."

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan addresses a forum of Wall Street workers on World AIDS Day in New York, December 1, 2004. [Reuters]

A U.S. official in Washington said the administration did not believe Annan should resign over the scandal, but that the administration was reluctant to strongly defend him because there is some "irritation with Annan" over Iraq.

"There was no hunger to stand up and say Annan is doing a great job," said the official. He said the United Nations was less than eager to get involved in Iraq after its Baghdad headquarters was bombed in August 2003.

"We (pushed hard) to deal with the issue of security and every time another problem is solved, another problem is put on the table," he said.

At a meeting with Annan on Security Council reform, the ambassadors of Argentina, Algeria, Colombia, Egypt, Italy, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, South Korea, Spain and Turkey expressed strong support for the secretary-general.

Spain's U.N. ambassador, Juan Antonio Yanez-Barnuevo, told reporters the group had mentioned "unfair and unwarranted attacks" against Annan, who was an "inspiration to us all."

African countries at the United Nations have sent a separate letter to Annan pledging support.

Some 3,000 U.N. staff have signed an e-mail letter saying many of the accusations against the world body were "made without full knowledge of the facts."

"More than ever, we support the secretary-general in his balanced, fair and substantive approach," the letter said.


Conservative columnists and Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, chairman of the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, have called for Annan to resign.

Coleman charged that ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein reaped $21.3 billion because of Annan's lack of oversight -- a figure far higher than those in other recent U.S. probes.

At issue is a $64 billion program for Iraq, administered by the United Nations and supervised by the 15-nation Security Council, that was meant to ease the impact of sanctions on ordinary Iraqis.

Since Saddam's fall, there have been widespread allegations of violations of U.N. sanctions, many connected to the U.N. program but others involving oil smuggling to countries like Jordan and Turkey, known by the United States since 1991.

Charles Duelfer, a former U.N. arms inspector, who did a detailed survey on Iraq in October, said Saddam earned $2 billion by cheating the oil-for-food program and another $7.5 billion outside of the program since 1991. His estimates were similar to earlier ones in Congress.

The latest charges involve Annan's son, Kojo, who worked for a Swiss firm, Cotecna, which inspected goods under the oil-for-food program and is under investigation.

The younger Annan worked in West Africa -- not in Iraq. U.N. officials say the secretary-general had nothing to do with the contract going to Cotecna in 1999, but Kojo Annan's full relationship with the firm was not revealed until last week.

Officials also say that U.N. staff that awarded the contract did not know at the time that the younger Annan, then a trainee, worked for Cotecna.

Paul Volcker, former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve (news - web sites), is conducting an extensive probe at Annan's request. The most serious charge against the world body is whether Benon Sevan, the head of the U.N. program, took any money from Iraq.

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