WASHINGTON – The Bush administration, cool to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) as he copes with calls for his resignation, has a track record of trying to oust heads of U.N. agencies
This week, the administration called on Mohamed ElBaradei (search), the Egyptian diplomat who heads the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, to step down after completing a second term next summer.
And two years ago, the administration was instrumental in the dismissal of Jose Mauricio Bustani (search), a Brazilian who was head of the U.N. chemical weapons regulatory body.
The International Labor Organization ruled last year Bustani was wrongly dismissed. The administration had accused him of mismanagement, but his supporters said he was targeted because he opposed the war with Iraq.
In Annan's case, it is a matter of the administration keeping its distance while investigators look into charges of corruption in the Iraqi Oil-for-Food (search) program. It permitted Iraq under Saddam Hussein to sell oil — despite an economic embargo — provided that the proceeds were used for food and medicine for the hard-pressed Iraqi people.
Sen. Norm Coleman (search), R-Minn., last month called Annan's resignation "inevitable," especially in light of revelations that his son, Kojo Annan, received $30,000 a year for more than five years from a Swiss-based company under investigation in connection with the U.N. program.
Five House Republicans have called for Annan to resign. One of them, Rep. Scott Garrett of New Jersey, said beyond that, "the question is whether he should be in jail."
Annan, who was in Washington on Thursday to speak to the Council on Foreign Relations, met with Secretary of State Colin Powell and his designated successor, Condoleezza Rice, mostly about scheduled elections next month in Iraq.
However, the controversy swirling about the U.N. program was never far from the surface.
Annan's speech was largely about updating the United Nations, including how it might respond to terror and disease.
But he began it with a calm pledge to support his appointed investigators, headed by former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker.
"We must get to the bottom of these allegations," Annan said, adding that all U.N. staff have been directed to cooperate or face disciplinary measures, including dismissal.
Asked earlier at a news conference how he felt about Bush not seeing him, Annan said, "I don't feel snubbed." He added, "The president and I have met on many occasions, and we also do talk on the phone."
Still, Bush last week declined an opportunity to endorse Annan at a news conference.
"I look forward to a full disclosure of the facts, a good, honest appraisal of that which went on, and it's important for the integrity of the organization," Bush said.
Powell, meanwhile, did not spring to Annan's defense Thursday, saying carefully, "We want to get the truth out, and we want to see these investigations come to a conclusion so responsibility and accountability can be assigned. And the world wants to see the results of these investigations as soon as possible, as well."
Ivo Daalder, senior fellow for policy studies at the Brookings Institution, said the Bush administration has established a pattern of disdain for the United Nations and other international institutions and is "not afraid to use its muscle to remove people not to our liking."
Daalder said in an interview that the administration got rid of Bustani, the director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and is trying to oust ElBaradei as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency because "he had the temerity to disagree with the United States on Iraq — and worse, was proved right."
Before the war with Iraq, ElBaradei wanted to pursue weapons inspections rather than use force against Saddam Hussein.
"This is an administration that, throughout its first four years and presumably in its next four years, has shown a remarkable disdain for international inspections," Daalder said.
On the other hand, Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute, backed the Bush administration but stopped short of calling for Annan's resignation.
"Annan is only a symbol," she said in an interview. "This is about solving the far deeper problem at the U.N."
"We are the biggest contributor to the U.N. and we pay the largest part of their salaries," she said. "It is not unreasonable for us to expect they will be responsive to our international concerns and they will not try to undermine us at every turn."
It is appropriate to try to limit ElBaradei to two terms at the U.N. nuclear agency, she said. "I think the administration is 100 per cent right to believe that when these jobs become a sinecure, the leadership is useless," Pletka said.