NEW YORK – Kofi Annan (search) had been on the job a little over a year when he was faced with a question that would come to haunt him — did he trust Iraq’s tyrannical ruler?
“Can I trust Saddam Hussein? I think I can do business with him,” the United Nations secretary-general told reporters at a Feb. 24, 1998 news conference.
Annan had just returned from Iraq, where he'd been given the go-ahead from the Security Council (search) to negotiate a compromise with Saddam, who was blocking U.N. weapons inspectors from entering his presidential palaces.
The United States, under then-President Bill Clinton, was ready to bomb Saddam into submission but Annan wanted to use the carrot instead of the stick. He offered to allow Saddam to sell more oil under the Oil-for-Food (search) program and to give him more freedom to spend that money on what he wished.
Saddam took the deal, then quickly reneged. The increased amounts of oil kept flowing but he kicked the weapons inspectors out.
Annan spoke about the failed deal with FOX News’ Eric Shawn in 2002. Asked if he regretted saying he thought the Iraqi dictator was someone who he could do business with, Annan said: “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,” Annan said.
But Richard Spertzel (search), the United Nation’s lead biological weapon inspector at the time, said Annan betrayed his team and demonstrated he was not the man the world needed to face off with tyrants like Saddam.
“We were stabbed in the back by Kofi Annan,” Spertzel told FOX News. “He may have been a fine diplomat along the way, but, the world situation and the U.N. is beyond his control.”
In fact, the Oil-for-Food scandal isn't the only time Annan played a central role in a United Nations debacle.
He was undersecretary-general in charge of U.N. peace-keeping operations in 1993 when the Security Council dispatched 2,500 mostly Belgian troops to Rwanda to keep the peace between the warring Hutus and Tutsis.
The U.N. force was commanded by Canadian General Romeo Dallaire (search). Dallaire learned from an informant that Hutu militia had targeted all Tutsis for “extermination” and he requested permission from Annan's office to try to stop the atrocity.
“And so I was crushed to find, to get a, message back fairly promptly telling me that I was well outside of my mandate,” Dallaire said.
The U.N. peacekeepers did nothing and Annan never passed Dallaire’s information onto the Security Council. Once the killing began, it went unchecked until mid-July 1993. By then Hutus had slaughtered an estimated 800,000 Tutsis.
“This genocide didn't go for, you know, 20 minutes. This thing went on for a hundred days,” Dallaire said. “We failed and hundreds of thousands died.”
Annan was still head of U.N. peacekeeping in 1995 when Serbian commander general Ratko Mladic unleashed a slaughter of Bosnian Muslims in a so-called United Nations safe haven in the former Yugoslavia, as U.N. peacekeepers stood by.
“I believed at that time that was doing my best,” Annan said last year as he was asked to reflect about the 10th anniversary of Rwanda. (search)
“But I realized that after the genocide that there was more that I could and should have done to sound the alarm and rally support. This painful memory, along with that of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has influenced much of many thinking and many of my actions as secretary-general,” he said.
Annan became secretary-general in 1997, the first who had not been an ambassador, foreign minister or high government official in his own country.
He was the choice of the Clinton White House, which at the time was most interested in cleaning up the United Nations after years of financial mismanagement and anti-western tilt. Although President Bush took office in 2001 as a skeptic of the United Nations, he supported Annan's reappointment the summer of that year after Annan won the Nobel Prize for his world-wide efforts to promote peace.
That, however, was before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States, when a U.N. secretary-general could still talk about trusting Saddam and the world would hardly take notice.
FOX News' Eric Shawn, David Asman, Jonathan Wachtel, Brian Gaffney, George Russell, Grace Cutler and Betsy Petrick contributed to this report.