WASHINGTON – United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) said Thursday that he wanted to "get to the bottom" of the Oil-for-Food scandal that has taken the U.N. by storm and has personally plagued the organization's leader.
Annan and Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) briefly discussed the topic during a meeting at the State Department Thursday morning, in the wake of recent statements by several congressmen that Annan leave the United Nations.
"The Oil-for-Food [program] is something I'm concerned about and want to get to the bottom of it. I am anxious to see the investigations completed as soon as possible," Annan said during a joint press conference with Powell.
Annan didn't answer a follow-up question yelled by another reporter about allegations that his son, Kojo, used the Annan name for personal use.
"We have confidence in the secretary-general. We want to get to the bottom of these matters as quickly as we can, and it is in our mutual interest to do so," Powell said.
Later, in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Annan pledged full cooperation with the investigations and said U.N. employees could be fired if they did not comply.
"We must get to the bottom of these allegations," Annan said. "All U.N. staff have been instructed to cooperate or face disciplinary measures, including dismissal."
"We're waiting for the results of those inquiries," Powell said. "We're both deeply concerned about this matter and we want to get the truth out and want to see these investigations come to a conclusion. ... The world wants to see the results of these investigations as soon as possible."
Annan was in Washington to meet with Powell, as well as President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, who has been nominated to take Powell's place as head of the State Department.
Iraq Elections on Track
The U.N. leader was meeting with American officials because, among other things, the United States wants the United Nations to send more election monitors to Iraq before January's elections, and Annan wants the firm backing of the Bush administration as he fends off demands for his ouster.
The Bush administration is unhappy with Annan over Iraq. He called the war "illegal," wrote a letter opposing U.S. military actions in Fallujah (search), and has been reluctant to send a large number of experts to help Iraq hold elections.
Annan said the United Nations will give the Iraqi independent electoral commission more help in making sure the Jan. 30 elections are successful.
"We have a whole agenda ahead of us and we are determined to work and help the Iraqi people succeed in this effort," Annan said Thursday following his meeting with Powell.
"The U.N. effort seems to be on track in support of the Iraqi effort" to hold elections, Powell said, adding that Iraqis have "the principal responsibility."
Powell noted that the U.N. was taking the first steps to expand its presence in Iraq outside Baghdad to the cities of Basra and Irbil and had increased the number of election experts it plans to deploy in Iraq.
The United States is unlikely to be satisfied with the current commitment of 25 election monitors, but Powell did not say whether he has asked for a particular number of U.N. election workers.
"We have enough people in there to do the work," Annan said, as he stood with Powell. "And if need be, we'll put in the staff we need to get the work done. It's not a question of numbers; it's a question of what you need to get the job done."
He also said the organization is looking toward next spring's parliamentary and municipal elections in Afghanistan after a "very successful" presidential election in October.
Annan also lamented that Powell will be leaving his post and thanked him for diplomatic work he conducted around the globe.
"We at the United Nations are going to miss him," Annan said. "We did work extremely well together."
Annan was not expected to go anywhere near Capitol Hill, where Republicans in the House and Senate have called for his resignation amid allegations of corruption in the U.N. Oil-for-Food program.
U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said, "the administration expressed an interest in discussing Iraq with him, and he would like to discuss with them a number of other issues that the U.N. and the U.S. are working closely on — Afghanistan, Sudan, Haiti."
The U.N. is taking the first steps to expand its presence in Iraq outside Baghdad to the cities of Basra and Irbil but is planning to have only about 25 electoral experts in the entire country ahead of the scheduled Jan. 30 elections, the spokesman said Wednesday.
Powell, Rice and the interim Iraqi government have been pressing the United Nations to expand its electoral team and its presence in the country.
Annan pulled all U.N. international staff out of Iraq in October 2003, after two bombings at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad and a spate of attacks on humanitarian workers. The first bombing, on Aug. 19, 2003, killed the top U.N. envoy, Sergio Vieira de Mello (search), and 21 others.
In August, the secretary-general allowed a small U.N. contingent to return to Baghdad and imposed a ceiling of 35 international staffers. The upper limit was recently raised to 59.
Bush sidestepped reporters' questions earlier this month about whether Annan should resign, saying he was awaiting results of investigations of the program.
The Oil-for-Food program allowed Saddam Hussein's government to sell oil and use the revenue to buy food, medicine and other necessities. Investigations have found that Saddam skimmed billions of dollars from the program using bribes and kickbacks, some involving top U.N. and foreign government officials.
Annan's son Kojo also worked for Cotecna (search), a company that had a contract in the Oil-for-Food program and received payments for years after his employment ended. He worked for the company in Africa, not Iraq.
FOX News' Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.