Tensions High as Annan Makes D.C. Rounds
WASHINGTON – The United States wants the United Nations (search) to send more election monitors to Iraq before elections there next month, and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) wants the firm backing of the Bush administration as he fends off demands for his ouster.
Each party is expected to lobby the other Thursday when Annan makes rounds on outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell and White House national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, whom President Bush has nominated to replace Powell.
Annan was also speaking on proposals to revamp the United Nations and on U.S. relations with the world body in an address to the private Council on Foreign Relations.
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 (search) 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 and Rice and the interim Iraqi government have been pressing the United Nations to expand its electoral team and its presence in the country.
While deploying just 25 U.N. election experts is unlikely to satisfy the Iraqis or Americans, U.S. Ambassador John Danforth said Monday the United Nations was "moving in the right direction" and expressed hope it would put personnel in northern and southern Iraq.
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, 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 and Eckhard said Wednesday the number of staffers currently in Iraq is "in that neighborhood."
President Bush sidestepped reporters' questions earlier this month about whether Annan should resign, saying he was awaiting results of investigations of the program, but Danforth later said Annan has the Bush's administration's support.
"We are not suggesting or pushing for the resignation of the secretary-general," Danforth said. "We have worked well with him in the past and look forward to working with him for some time in the future."
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 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.