UNITED NATIONS – Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) rejected calls for his resignation from several U.S. lawmakers, saying Tuesday he will "carry on" at the helm of the United Nations for the next two years.
Five Republican members of the House of Representatives on Monday backed a GOP senator's call for Annan to resign amid allegations of corruption in the U.N. Oil-for-Food program (search). But outside the United States, there is no clamor for the secretary-general to step down, and he has picked up support from many of the 191 U.N. member states.
Annan said he plans to concentrate on reform of the United Nations (search) in the last two years of his term, a process that began last week with the release of a report by a high-level panel that analyzed global threats in the 21st century and made 101 recommendations on how to tackle them.
"I have quite a lot of work to do and I'm carrying on with my work," Annan said when asked when he would respond to those calling for his resignation. "We have a major agenda next year, and the year ahead, trying to reform this organization. So we'll carry on."
Was he definitely saying no, he would not resign?
"I think you heard my answer," Annan replied.
Although President Bush refused to back Annan last week, his closest international ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, gave the secretary-general a strong endorsement Monday, saying he is doing "a fine job ... often in very difficult circumstances."
The French and Spanish leaders telephoned their support Tuesday. Arab nations sent a letter of support, joining the 54 African nations and the 25-member European Union in backing the secretary-general.
And after Annan's monthly luncheon Tuesday with the 15 ambassadors on the powerful U.N. Security Council, Germany's U.N. Ambassador Gunter Pleuger said: "Nobody in the room called for Kofi Annan's resignation. On the contrary, we all expressed our confidence in the secretary-general."
U.S. Ambassador John Danforth, standing nearby, was asked whether he had joined in the expression of confidence. Like Bush, he had previously sidestepped any endorsement of Annan.
"I have great confidence in the secretary-general," Danforth replied. "I think that the issue, though, related to Oil-for-Food, is to have the investigation go on in a thorough and objective fashion. That's the key. And you can't make up your mind before the facts are in. You just have to let the facts speak for themselves."
Algeria's U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Baali, the current council president, said Annan told members that an initial report in January by former U.S. Federal Reserve chief Paul Volcker, who is heading an independent inquiry into the program, will be made public — as will a follow-up report in May.
Several U.S. newspapers and columnists have called for Annan to be replaced because of the Oil-for-Food allegations, but it was Sen. Norm Coleman's demand for Annan's resignation that made headlines last week. The Minnesota Republican, who is leading one of five congressional investigations into the accusations, said Annan presided over the "greatest fraud and theft" in the history of the United Nations.
Two weeks ago, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which Coleman chairs, said it had uncovered evidence that Saddam Hussein's government raised more than $21.3 billion in illegal revenue by subverting U.N. sanctions and the Oil-for-Food program.
The Oil-for-Food program began in 1996 to help Iraqis cope with U.N. sanctions imposed after Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. It allowed Saddam's government to sell unlimited quantities of oil provided most of the proceeds went to buy food, medicine and humanitarian goods and to compensate victims of the 1991 Gulf War.
The program was created by the U.N. Security Council and monitored by the council committee monitoring sanctions against Iraq. The U.N. Secretariat, headed by Annan, ran the program.