WASHINGTON – CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS SUNDAY HOST: It was a rocky week for the United Nations: New charges about Kofi Annan's (search) role in the oil-for-food scandal; the U.S. House voted to hold back millions of dollars in dues unless the U.N. cleans up its act; and a high-powered task force issued a report about U.N. reform.
Here to discuss all this are the co-chairmen of that panel: former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (search), who joins us in New York; and former Speaker of the House and FOX News contributor, Newt Gingrich (search).
Welcome to both of you. Good to have you with us today.
Before we get into the details of your report, let's talk about whether you can have reform with Kofi Annan as the secretary general. He was head of peacekeeping operations during the slaughter in Rwanda. He's been secretary general for eight years, during the oil-for-food scandal and during the time when dictatorships have served on the Human Rights Commission.
Speaker Gingrich, is Kofi Annan part of the solution or is he part of the problem?
U.N. REFORM TASK FORCE CO-CHAIRMAN NEWT GINGRICH: Well, I think he's part of the problem. But I think focusing and personalizing it actually is a distraction. The member states have the power to reform the U.N. any time the member states want to do so. And I think that, between now and September, we have a real opportunity to pass substantive reform.
And Kofi Annan, I would feel better if he would take more responsibility for exactly the things you're describing. But I think trying to focus on him would, frankly, lead to a political fight inside the U.N. that wouldn't get you very far; whereas focusing on the reforms may actually get very substantial change.
WALLACE: Senator Mitchell, let me follow up on that. There were, as I mentioned, new allegations this week that Kofi Annan may have had more to do with the awarding of a contract to a big company in the oil-for-food scandal, a company that employed his son, Kojo.
And when you add that up -- that of course is going to be investigated, we're told now urgently, by the Volcker Commission (search) -- but when you add that along to everything else that I just mentioned, is Kofi Annan too tainted to help lead the reform movement at the U.N.?
U.N. REFORM TASK FORCE CO-CHAIRMAN GEORGE MITCHELL: As the speaker indicated, our mandate was to look at the institution over the long term, not at individuals in the short term. And in fact, it deters and detracts from the reform effort to try to turn this into a focus on any one individual. Annan's term is going to expire in a year-and-a-half, in any event. And it's going to take a lot longer to have the kind of long-term, institutional effort with change and results that this commission hopes to achieve.
So I think the focus should be on the institutional reforms that we have suggested.
There's a real opportunity now, Chris, I might say -- I think the speaker will agree with this -- that at the U.N., we didn't encounter anyone from Annan on down who said, "There's no problem. Go away."
Everybody said, "We know there's a problem. We know that something has to be done. And we welcome your recommendations." They were looking forward to them. I think there's a real opportunity that ought not to be missed at this moment.
WALLACE: Senator Mitchell, the U.S. House passed a bill this week that calls for many of the same reforms that you do. But it adds a big stick, and that stick is that it would cut U.S. dues to the U.N. in half unless the U.N. agrees to adopt, I think, 46 reforms over the next few years.
My question is: Wouldn't that threat give the U.S. a lot more leverage, a lot more clout to fix the U.N.?
MITCHELL: We did not recommend that in our group, although there are probably differing individual views on that subject within the membership of our task force. We feel that the time is right now for change that will come through positive and constructive and concerted U.S. leadership. My personal view is that the withholding of dues, particularly as proposed in this legislation, would not work.
Indeed, as you know, Chris, the Bush administration has come out against the withholding of dues. I can't think of any administration that would agree to the kind of limitations on its flexibility that this implies.
But I do want to emphasize, first, my respect and friendship with Congressman Hyde and, secondly, that we support and agree on the recommendations for change that have been proposed. My personal disagreement is solely with the method that is being proposed by that legislation to achieve it. I don't think it will work.
WALLACE: But, Speaker Gingrich, over the years the U.S. has either held back dues or threatened to hold back dues. And as one of its important concessions, I can think back to 1989 when the U.N. was considering at that time giving recognition to the PLO as a full- fledged state. Why not do it again?
GINGRICH: Well, first of all, I think that Henry Hyde and his committee reflect the anger of thoughtful Americans at the level of corruption in the U.N., at things like sexual predation by U.N. peacekeepers at the utter failure to save lives in Sudan and Rwanda and in parts of the Balkans. So the anger is real and legitimate.
I think that the notion of giving the president the ability to withhold dues makes some sense as a bargaining chip. And my guess is when the bill comes out of conference with the Senate, who will have a provision that allows the president have that stick, I think a mandatory automatic dues cut just means you get in a big fight with all the other countries around the world, who also pay -- the Japanese, for example, pay almost as much as we do.
And if everybody starts getting into a mandatory withholding unless they get their particular thing, I think it's very hard to manage right now.
WALLACE: Let's talk about some of the specific reforms you called for, Speaker Gingrich. Let's put a few of the big ones up on the screen: an independent oversight board to prevent future scandals; zero tolerance for abuse by U.N. peacekeepers; and reform of the Human Rights Council.
But, Mr. Speaker, isn't there a bigger problem? Aren't there too many dictatorships and violators of human rights that are members of the U.N.? And aren't they always, regardless of these reforms, aren't they always going to push an agenda that is very different from ours?
GINGRICH: Of course they are. And we make two very important recommendations in this bipartisan task force, in this report.
GINGRICH: First, we say: Only democracies in countries which obey the rule of law should in fact be on the Human Rights Commission in the future. And the United States should actively work to have that kind of a standard set.
Second, we strongly urge the administration -- and we've gotten very good response from Secretary Rice and others -- to organize the democracies, because a majority of the countries now for the first time are democracies in a broadly defined way.
And if they began to vote together -- as democracies rather than vote as regional groupings -- we believe, in fact, for the very first time you could begin to crowd the dictators into a very clear minority status.
WALLACE: Let me just ask you to follow up on that, Senator Mitchell. I mean, given the current makeup of the U.N. General Assembly, are those reforms going to stick or is the U.N. still going to be what it is given all those other countries?
MITCHELL: Well, we think it has to change. And we hope that enough countries will recognize that it is in the their interest. The fundamental conclusion of our task force was that an effective U.N. is in the American national interest. We don't presume to speak to or for any other people, but we think that many others will reach the same conclusion, and it will be effective only if it is transparent, accountable and follows some of the recommendations that we've made.
Chris, on the broader question of membership, from the very beginning the United Nations has included non-democracies. Indeed, the five permanent council members with vetoes at the time it originated included the Soviet Union, headed by Joseph Stalin, and China, which shortly thereafter was taken over by the communists and Mao Tse Tung.
What we've done is to try to encourage the growth of democracy to encourage free market institutions around the world.
And if you look back over the past half-century, I would argue we're doing pretty well in that respect. And I think we should keep moving in that direction. There's a yearning for positive, constructive, active American leadership, both to accomplish the reform and to lead the world in many directions. And I think this will help the U.N. be more effective and be in our interest for that reason.
WALLACE: Speaker Gingrich, we have a little bit of time left. You sent a letter to all senators yesterday calling on them to censure Senator Durbin for his remarks about the treatment of U.S. terror prisoners. Why the need for such formal action?
GINGRICH: Well, I got up this morning and checked, and Al Jazeera (search) today is running quotes of Senator Durbin comparing Americans to Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and Pol Pot's Cambodia. I think that the other 99 senators have to draw a sharp line that this is totally unacceptable for an American official to compare the U.S. to millions being killed by the Nazis or the Soviets or by Pol Pot in Cambodia. And Senator Durbin refuses to admit that this was a mistake. He refuses to say he was wrong.
WALLACE: Well, he says -- he now says that I regret if...
GINGRICH: No. What he says is I regret people didn't understand historical parallels. There is no parallel -- none -- between Nazi Germany and Guantanamo, between the gulag and Guantanamo, between Pol Pot and Cambodia and Guantanamo. That's the very point. You cannot compare the United States and have a public official quoted throughout the world by our enemies describing the U.S. in these terms -- it puts every young American in uniform at risk.
WALLACE: And we've got about 15 seconds left, Senator Mitchell. What did you think of Dick Durbin's remarks?
MITCHELL: Well, Senator Durbin has said that he regrets the use of the historical allusion, I think and it is dangerous to use historical allusions because they never really are apt. They're used by a lot of public officials on a lot of occasions.
I think the statement was unfortunate. He recognizes that, regrets the use of the allusion. And I think that will be the end of it. I don't think it's going to go on much longer.
WALLACE: Senator Mitchell, Speaker Gingrich, thank you both very much for joining us today.
GINGRICH: Thank you.
WALLACE: Appreciate it.
MITCHELL: Thank you.