UNITED NATIONS – United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) has a message for those who have the impression that he and the world body are slanted against U.S. interests — "I'm not anti-American."
Annan, in an exclusive interview with Fox News, called that characterization unfair and unfortunate. While the United Nations has had its differences with the Bush administration, especially over the U.S.-led war against Iraq, Annan said the two sides can work well together.
"The U.N. is not anti-American at all," Annan told Fox News' Eric Shawn. "When you go back to the creation of this organization, American leaders and American politicians played a very important role and the U.S. and the U.N. for many years and on many occasions have worked extremely well together."
Still, Annan acknowledged that there was tension over Iraq and he said that the United Nations should not be judged based on its standing on one event.
Asked if he was personally anti-American, Annan said it was "unfortunate" if some were left with that impression. Annan said his job was to represent the United Nations, not the United States.
"It doesn't make me anti-American, it indicates I'm here doing the work I'm here to do. There are many occasions where we see eye to eye but that doesn't make news. It's when you disagree that it gets exciting," Annan said.
The 65-year-old Annan was born in Ghana but went to college and graduate school in the United States. Annan joined the United Nations system in 1962 as an administrative and budget officer with the World Health Organization (search). In 1997, he became the first person to be elected secretary general from the ranks of the U.N. staff.
Now in his second term, Annan said he was optimistic.
"I am optimistic about the future. We are going through a difficult period but the world has been through many difficult periods, and somehow with human resilience, ingenuity, and creativity we've always come out of it, and we will come out of this one, perhaps even stronger," he said.
Annan spoke with Fox News on Friday, before Libya's announcement that it would give up its nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction programs as well as the U.S. government's decision to raise the nation's terror alert level.
Following are excerpts from the interview:
ERIC SHAWN: You have said that the U.N. is at the greatest crossroad since 1945, what do you mean by that?
KOFI ANNAN: I want the members to reflect with me on what we have gone through this past year following the war in Iraq and the whole concept of pre-emptive war, which is never mentioned in the Charter and it is something the organization has never dealt with before. And also the idea that we are facing new challenges, terrorism, or terrorist groups who may get their hands on WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) and not hesitate to use it. How do we respond to this new environment, how do we deal with it? Without going through the kind of acrimony and divisions we did on Iraq? The divisions I hope are beginning to heal but it's taken its toll.
SHAWN: What was that like for you to go through that?
ANNAN: It was difficult, it was painful. This is an organization that works by consensus and when you have deep divisions like that, it can be crippling. And you are also trying to deal with the real war and peace issues. And therefore, from professional, from a personal point of view, it was painful, it was tiring — exhausting. And the world was a pretty depressing place.
SHAWN: Do you worry about the future of this organization? Do you fear that the credibility of the world body of the U.N. has been damaged?
ANNAN: I think we hit a low point when the war began for several reasons. Those who are opposed to war could not understand that we could not stop the war and those who were for the war were upset that we did not support it. So we were attacked from both ends. But I think that after the war there has been a bit more reflection.
SHAWN: What do you hope the panel (to assess challenges facing the United Nations) will achieve?
ANNAN: I hope the panel will not focus only on structures and the processes of the U.N., but would also tackle some of the difficult questions. I cited one already, the question of pre-emptive war. What are the rules? Under what conditions? Because if we do not do that and Iraq is seen as a precedent that other governments can use, we will find ourselves in a pretty difficult world and in a pretty difficult environment.
SHAWN: Do you worry that that could actually happen?
ANNAN: Well, you cannot rule that out. We live in a world which is not always predictable, so it is better to at least come up with some ideas as to how to handle that situation before we get there. The other question I think they would have to tackle is when is intervention legitimate? ... And of course there will also be a question of security council reform, how the general assembly can be effective and there is lots of interest in security council reform
and I'm expecting some recommendations....
SHAWN: Do you think the divisions over Iraq damaged the council's credibility?
ANNAN: I think it depends on where, whom you speak to you know the old saying where you stand depends on where you sit. There are those who believe the council did what it had to do, that after serious debate and reflection they felt they could not support a war. And therefore did not. But those on the other side who thought the council was not acting the way it should and not living up to its own resolutions and not taking the steps to enforce its owns resolutions. My view is that the council took its responsibilities very seriously...
Now the war has happened what we need to do is pull together, to stabilize Iraq and make sure we can help the Iraqis establish a stable democratic and hopefully prosperous Iraq and that is a tough challenge and that is a responsibility for all of us. Because a chaotic Iraq in the middle of that region will not save anybody, not the Iraqis, not the countries in the region, not in the world.
SHAWN: Do you think Iraq will be safer now if the United Nations was there instead of the coalition running it?
ANNAN: I don't know if I'll put it in terms of Iraq being safer if the U.N. were there. I think we need to stabilize the situation, we need to create a secure environment. I had to pull my staff out because of security considerations. If we were to create a secure environment, we are ready to go back, in fact I am establishing an office in Cyprus and Amman in the region, to continue our work. ... I think the U.N. does have a role to play in Iraq, the international community does, we all need to pool our efforts, that is why yesterday I indicated it would be necessary for us to sit across the table with the Iraqi Governing Council to asses where we are and exactly what is expected of the U.N. And I would want to do the same with the coalition, because they are very much running Iraq, and if indeed they need the help of the U.N. to create a provisional government, we need to discuss exactly what this is and how we can go about doing it, and we need to play our role.
SHAWN: You talk about pulling the U.N., the headquarters out, but your own organization faulted the security, that there wasn't proper film on the windows, the truck went through the area that had been guarded by the United States, that you didn't want the coalition there, so is it hypocritical to say you came out because of security concerns when your own organization faults you.
ANNAN: I think this is an interesting question. We cannot look at that report in isolation. You have to look at the overall environment in Iraq and I would hasten to add that there have been lots of bombs and lots of attacks on everybody ... There were some lapses, which we are taking steps to correct, but let's not pretend that if we had put films on the windows, the attack would not have happened. Maybe some people would not have been hurt the way they were, but given the current environment in Baghdad the report indicated there's nowhere in Iraq without risk and we are taking measures to protect our people and secure it, and I hope someday when others do a report like the one we did they would also share it with the public to know what went wrong, and for all of us to draw lessons. And I hope we are drawing lessons, and I hope others are drawing lessons on the report we did and shared publicly.
SHAWN: Do you worry that the terrorists, that these nihilistic people who want to kill, no longer see the U.N. as a neutral helpful hand, that they see you as the enemy too?
ANNAN: That has been a worry because for a long time, we have been able to get on with our work without this kind of attack. The Red Cross, a neutral agency, has been able to do the same. But for the first time, on the 19th of August, the (U.N.) blue flag was so viciously attacked, and we lost some of our best colleagues and friends in that attack, and I don't want to create the impression that every place is like Iraq and generalize from the particular, but we need to take measures to protect ourselves and be careful how we work around the world. We don't want to be in bunkers, we can't. Our work is people. We need to be able to have access to them and they have to have access to us. The moment we sit behind walls and are denied that mobility and that access, we cannot be effective. So we need security but a peculiar type of security -- a security that allows you mobility, flexibility and contact with the local population that you are there to help.
SHAWN: You talk about the image of the U.N., what people see it as. One thing that struck me when I was here covering this, Saddam Hussein for all those years, 12-1/2 years, ignored the Security Council: 17 resolutions. He did not completely provide for what he was supposed to do, what does it mean that a tinhorn dictator, an evil man like Saddam Hussein, ignores the United Nations?
ANNAN: I think the U.N. is as strong as its member states. We should not forget when we look at the division over this current Iraq war, that it was the same United Nations that passed a resolution authorizing the first Gulf War, with the former President Bush and former Secretary of State Baker, that created [pause] an atmosphere and a basis for pulling together a coalition that went and removed Iraq from Kuwait. And went on, so there are times when the governments come together and they work together. And often I've talked about the need for unity and the need for the council to find common ground. When I refer to unity and common ground some people think it's form. It's not form, it's substance. Where there is unity and consensus the council can get a lot done. When they speak with one voice they have far greater impact than when there are divisions. Iraq was one of those issues where there were genuine divisions amongst the membership and that carried on through the war. And we are trying to mend fences and heal the wounds as we speak.
SHAWN: But Saddam had, since 1990, 45 days to put everything out on the table, and he didn't abide by this organization. How do you deal with that and what does that mean about the credibility when dictators don't listen to you?
ANNAN: It's a complex situation, this Iraq issue. We shouldn't forget that the U.N. had been disarming Iraq since 1991 and between '91 and '96 they did very serious work of disarmament. They stripped Iraq of quite a lot of its weapons, and in fact they destroyed more weapons than all the bombings in Gulf War I did. And inspectors left Iraq in 98 they went back earlier this year, used three years more or less to prepare and [Chief U.N. Weapons Inspector Hans] Blix will tell you that he jokes about he took three years to prepare to get back to Iraq and was shut down in 3 1/2 months. He will say. But it is also an indication that the inspectors did a credible job. We haven't found weapons of mass destruction since they left, U.S. teams went in with larger resources, much many more personnel and in a situation that is also controlled by the coalition, and they haven't found anything. And of course the question is, if there was nothing, why didn't the Iraqis come clean? To say we don't have this. There are all sorts of theories, one being that they probably there was an element of bluff that they did not want to be seen as naked without weapons in a neighborhood where everyone was arming themselves to the teeth. There's another theory that they may have hidden them, how you hide all these weapons is something that maybe history will tell us, they have been very good at camouflaging things, but I think when we look at the U.N. record we should not forget the very useful work the inspectors and their disarmament teams did.
SHAWN: Some Americans think that the U.N. is anti-American, what would you tell them?
ANNAN: Not at all, the U.N. is not anti-American at all. When you go back to the creation of this organization, American leaders and American politicians played a very important role and the U.S. and the U.N. for many years and on many occasions have worked extremely well together....
SHAWN: Some even say that you are anti-American?
ANNAN: I think it is unfortunate that they get that impression, they have to understand that I have work to do. And I'm the secretary-general of the United Nations. I don't represent the United States in this building so there will be times when I will take a position which is at variance with the U.S. administration. It doesn't make me anti-American, it indicates I'm here doing the work I'm here to do. There are many occasions where we see eye to eye but that doesn't make news. It's when you disagree that it gets exciting....
SHAWN: When you met with Saddam, you came back and said you think he is a man you can do business with. Do you regret saying that?
ANNAN: No. I think what I was getting across objectively was that I had just gone to Baghdad and spoken to him and got him to agree to open the palaces. Don't forget that we were going to go to war, because he had refused to open the palaces for inspection. And I got him to open those palaces, so that we could go in and inspect. The agreement didn't stand the test of time for many months or years, but I think the attempt to try to resolve issues peacefully and to avoid war is something that as secretary of this organization I must always do. And we see the consequences of war, in war all are losers and if you can win by not fighting, try it you don't always have to fight to win.
SHAWN: You say in war all are losers, but what if the Iraqi people are liberated, what if they have democracy and their own citizens are not being massacred anymore by Saddam's henchmen?
ANNAN: The Iraqis are happy to see a brutal dictator overthrown, and I think the rest of the world is happy to see that happen. Could it have been done otherwise or is this the only way to do it? Today we see the situation where the brutal dictator is gone but we are faced with a very difficult situation on the ground in Iraq, did it happen to be that way? Could it have been done differently? These are questions the historians and political scientists will debate for a long time.
SHAWN: Now that Saddam is captured, do you think the war was necessary?
ANNAN: If the reason for going to war was weapons of mass destruction, which was the whole debate in this building, and we haven't found the weapons of mass destruction, then the question is posed by many, why did we go to war? If you accept the argument of those who are now saying they went there to liberate the Iraqi people and to be able to democratize Iraq and change the politics in the region, then of course they will say the war was worth it. But here in this building, the debate and the reason for going to war was to get rid of weapons of mass destruction and we haven't found those weapons of mass destruction so in the minds of some of the people its not so much whether the war should have been fought, or whether having removed Saddam it was worthwhile, for them was the war justified?
SHAWN: So based on that logic, would you say the war is a failure and not justified?
ANNAN: I don't want to frame the question in terms was the war a failure and not justified, but until you find weapons of mass destruction, the question of the reasons for going to war will be there, there will be questions marks as to whether we really had to go to war to look for weapons. Inspectors have said they haven't found, and said they needed a bit more time to work on it and were told you don't have more time, and the intelligence were told very clearly know that it is there and it hasn't been found, it raises questions.