WASHINGTON – President Bush said Thursday that he expects a "full and fair and open accounting" of the U.N. Oil-for-Food program but he sidestepped a question on whether U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan (search) should resign.
"It's very important for the United Nations to understand that there ought to be a full and fair and open accounting of the Oil-for-Food program. In order for the taxpayers of the United States to feel comfortable about supporting the United Nations, there has to be an open accounting," Bush said at the White House.
Asked specifically if Annan should step down, Bush did not directly answer the question.
"I look forward to the full disclosure of the facts, get honest appraisal of that which went on. And it's important for the integrity of the organization to have a full and open disclosure of all that took place with the Oil-for-Food program," Bush said.
Bush's comments come a day after Sen. Norm Coleman (search) — the Minnesota Republican who is leading one of the Oil-for-Food investigations in Congress — publicly called for Annan to leave his position.
"There's got to be some responsibility," Coleman told FOX News on Thursday. "And there's no way you're going to clean up this mess unless the guy who was in charge when it all occurred simply steps back and let's us get to the bottom of it."
The Oil-for-Food (search) program, which began in 1996, permitted Iraq to sell oil, provided that the revenue went for food, medicine and other necessities. At the time, Iraq was under tough U.N. economic penalties.
Two weeks ago, Coleman's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations said it had uncovered evidence that Saddam Hussein's government raised more than $21.3 billion in illegal revenue by subverting U.N. sanctions against Iraq, including the Oil-for-Food program.
On Monday, Annan said he was "very disappointed and surprised" that his son Kojo received payments until February 2004 from a firm that had a contract with the Oil-for-Food program. The Swiss-based firm Cotecna Inspection S.A., said Kojo Annan was paid $2,500 a month to prevent him from working for competitors after he left the company in 1998.
Annan said he understood "the perception problem for the U.N.," but he reiterated that he has never been involved in granting contracts to Cotecna or anyone else.
The secretary-general appointed former U.S. Federal Reserve chief Paul Volcker to head an independent inquiry into the Oil-for-Food program. He handed over all U.N. documents and ordered U.N. officials to cooperate.
Volcker wrote to Coleman two weeks ago to say his investigation won't share documents until its own reports are issued starting in January. Coleman said this was another factor in asking for Annan's resignation.
Coleman wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece published Wednesday that "as long as Mr. Annan remains in charge, the world will never be able to learn the full extent of the bribes, kickbacks and under-the-table payments that took place under the U.N.'s collective nose."
Annan's spokesman said the secretary general has no plans to leave and United Nations 191 member states voiced support for Annan. He was elected to a second five-year term in 2001.
Russia, Britain, Chile, Spain and other nations on the U.N. Security Council strongly backed Annan in recent days, as did non-council members. The 54 African nations sent a letter of support.
"He has heard no calls for resignation from any member state," U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard told reporters when asked whether he envisioned Annan's stepping down. "If there's some agitation on this issue on the sidelines ... that's healthy debate. But he is intent on continuing his substantive work for the remaining two years and one month of his term."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.