UNITED NATIONS – The United States expressed confidence in Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) on Thursday and said he should remain at the helm of the United Nations, an abrupt turnaround from its refusal to back him last week after a U.S. senator called for his resignation.
The unequivocal support from U.S. Ambassador John Danforth (search), who said he was speaking on behalf of the Bush administration, aligned the United States with the 190 other members of the United Nations who rallied to support the beleaguered Annan.
"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."
Sen. Norm Coleman's (search) call last week for Annan's resignation amid allegations of corruption in the U.N. Oil-for-Food program in Iraq made headlines and led to an outpouring of support from nations around the world.
The leaders of U.S. ally Britain, as well as France, Russia, Germany and other countries phoned the secretary-general to back him, and Annan got a rare standing ovation Wednesday from the U.N. General Assembly which includes all 191 U.N. member states.
President Bush twice refused to support the secretary-general last week, stressing that he wanted a "full and fair and open accounting of the Oil-for-Food program" so U.S. taxpayers "feel comfortable about supporting the United Nations."
Some U.N. officials and diplomats saw this as a veiled threat that the United States might again stop paying its U.N. dues.
Danforth also called for a thorough investigation. But he said Tuesday he had "great confidence" in the secretary-general.
On Wednesday, U.S. deputy ambassador Patrick Kennedy joined in the ovation at the end of Annan's presentation to the General Assembly of a report that called for the most sweeping reforms of the United Nations since its founding in 1945.
Annan said Tuesday he would stay on as U.N. chief and focus on reform during his final two years.
Danforth said U.S. support for a thorough Oil-for-Food investigation had been misinterpreted as a lack of confidence in Annan and a desire for his resignation. He said he was asked to clarify that the United States supported the secretary-general and did not want him to step down.
In his news conference Thursday, which was delayed for five hours, Danforth said the Oil-for-Food probe was essentially "a criminal investigation" and that the investigators must determine whether anyone is guilty of bribery, payoffs and corruption.
"We are expressing confidence in the secretary-general and in his continuing in office. We are also saying that the investigation is critically important, that there is a cloud over the United Nations," Danforth said.
"The only way to dispel the cloud is let the sunlight in. And that means a thorough investigation, an objective investigation," he said.
Danforth was asked about recent revelations about Annan's son, Kojo, who worked in Africa for a Swiss-based company that had an Oil-for-Food contract. He said Kojo Annan was an adult and implied he has to answer for himself.
"There is no question as to the personal integrity of the secretary-general," Danforth said.
Annan appointed former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker to lead an independent inquiry of the Oil-for-Food program and turned over all U.N. documents. Coleman, who is leading one of five U.S. congressional investigations, has accused Annan of not helping his inquiry.
The secretary-general said it's up to Volcker, who controls the U.N. material, and Volcker said he will only release documents with his reports. The first is due in January and a final report is expected in mid-2005.
Danforth said the worst thing the United Nations could now do is not cooperate with the probe.
In his remarks last week, Coleman, a Minnesota Republican, said Annan presided over the "greatest fraud and theft" in the history of the United Nations. Two weeks ago, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations which he chairs said it had uncovered evidence that Saddam Hussein's government raised more than $21.3 billion in illegal revenue by subverting U.N. sanctions and the Oil-for-Food program.