Annan Addresses U.N. Staff

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) met with staffers Tuesday in an effort to shore up his standing with some who believe the United Nations has suffered humiliation and damage to its reputation under his leadership.

The United Nations, at the last minute, decided to close the meeting to the media after saying last week that it would be open and transparent. The U.N. later played a tape of the meeting.

Annan told the staff that the past few months have been a "painful time" for everyone, including himself, amid the "relentless" attacks against the organization.

The secretary-general also told them not to believe everything they read in the press. But staffers said Annan didn't apologize for his role in any of the events constituting this "painful time," and they resent that. They are also upset that Annan took only eight to 10 questions. One former senior U.N. official told FOX News those questions had all been planted by the secretary general's staff; Annan's spokesman denied that claim.

Bachir Al-Okla, an Arabic translator, asked what the United Nations was doing to address staff concerns that they face retribution if they speak out against corruption or malfeasance by managers.

"If these people come to you, Mr. Secretary-General, as their last resort and they ask you to interfere, will you take it upon yourself to conduct a thorough investigation?"

Annan replied that he would make sure such complaints got to the right people.

"If you have the facts, do come up with the facts, but also be prepared to accept that there has to be due process," he told Al-Okla.

One U.N. human resources staff representative, Mario Cianci, said he believes Annan recognizes that there is much concern around the United Nations that their secretary general has been "far too removed" from the general staff.

It was Annan's 10th meeting with staff since taking office in 1997.

The hour-long question-and-answer session was held in the U.N. General Assembly hall in front of a few hundred New York staffers. Many more looked on or listened via electronic hookups from other U.N. centers.

Employees who filled the giant General Assembly hall were generally supportive, giving Annan a standing ovation when he walked in and applauding him heartily as he wrapped up after giving his speech.

Many U.N. workers have privately expressed concern about Annan's leadership and the scandals that have plagued the world body in recent years, including the Oil-for-Food (search) controversy and allegations of sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers (search) in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That sense of frustration increased last week following Annan's reaction to the latest report on the Oil-for-Food scandal.

"Oil-for-Food shakes us up ... now I think there has to be real change. I like to think that Oil-for-Food will be good for us in the long run," Cianci said. "If you suffer from idealism if you come to this organization, you are cured."

That report, released by the Independent Inquiry Committee led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker (search), directly faulted Annan for not investigating a clear conflict of interest that involved him, his son Kojo, the Cotecna Inspection SA (search) contracting firm, and the Oil-for-Food program.

Read the full report by clicking here (pdf).

"I know it has cast a shadow over all of us and you have no idea what a personal pain it has been for me as secretary-general and as a father having to deal with this situation," Annan said during Tuesday's meeting, according to video of the meeting.

Annan told another questioner the scandals would help him push U.N. reforms rather than bring about the U.N.'s demise, and acknowledged that some criticisms were warranted.

But he cautioned employees not to believe everything they see or hear in the media.

"To see the institution you devoted your life to being hammered and attacked, in most cases unfairly, was very difficult to digest and I can imagine what impact it had on you and on staff morale," Annan said. "We are dealing with people with enormous resources who are organized, coordinated, and it's relentless."

"There is lots of talent in this organization," he said. "Don't let anyone knock you and say the U.N. is filled with dead wood."

He added: "It is also unfortunate that my own son seems to have been associated somehow with this program, and of course that investigation is going on."

U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said that statement did not reflect any new development in the investigation.

The Volcker report said there was no evidence that the selection of Cotecna for an Oil-for-Food inspection contract "was subject to any affirmative or improper influence of the secretary-general in the bidding or selection process" that took place in 1998.

In reacting to the report last week, Annan declared he'd been exonerated.

"After so many distressing and untrue allegations have been made against me, this exoneration by the independent inquiry obviously comes as a great relief," Annan said on March 30.

But, in an exclusive interview with FOX News, leading IIC member Judge Richard Goldstone said Annan should have reacted very differently and disagreed with Annan's interpretation that the report cleared him of any wrongdoing.

"I thought that it wasn't correct," Goldstone said. "I don't want to put words in his mouth, but I certainly would have said that 'indeed, in hindsight, I should have launched the inquiry to which the committee referred.'"

When asked what his personal reaction was to Annan's lack of a mea culpa, Goldstone replied: "It seemed to me to be an opportunity lost."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Click on the video box above for a report by FOX News' Jonathan Hunt.