Sunday, December 05, 2004

Annan's Bad Week


December 5, 2004 -- Ever have one of those weeks where everything goes wrong?

Here's how things went for U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan last week:

* The world learned that his son's involvement with a European firm implicated in the $21-billion Oil-for-Food rip-off scandal lasted far longer, and was more complex, than the elder Annan had previously admitted.

(This, of course, leaves a finger of guilt pointing right at Annan himself.)

* Several members of Congress demanded that U.S. funding to the United Nations be withheld until the organization starts cooperating with congressional investigators trying to get to the bottom of the Oil-for-Food scandal, while others called for Annan's dismissal.

* The New York state Senate blocked a planned U.N. expansion on the East Side, also pending resolution of the Oil-for-Food scandal.

As Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Queens) put it: "[The UN] has evolved into an anti-Israel, anti-Semitic group of petty, sniping bigots who are pursuing an anti-freedom, anti-democratic, anti-American agenda. To authorize an expansion of their headquarters would be a slap in the face of American citizens." Hard to argue with that.

* U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Danforth resigned after barely six months in office.

The latter development is an opportunity: Now the White House can install someone truly prepared to squeeze Annan until he squeals.

Or leaves.

Meanwhile, New York GOP Reps. Vito Fosella, Sue Kelly and Peter King endorsed a bill that would withhold U.S. funding for the United Nations until the body responsibly faces the Oil-for-Food scandal.

The legislation would hold back 10 percent of America's U.N. contributions — about $100 million — next year, 20 percent in 2006, and so on, until the president determines that the organization was cooperating.

The three noted that the United Nations has repeatedly refused to cooperate with congressional investigators or make any officials available.

The action by these members came one day after Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, publicly demanded Annan's scalp.

"I have arrived at this conclusion because the most extensive fraud in the history of the U.N. occurred on his watch," Coleman wrote in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal.

"As long as Mr. Annan remains in charge, the world will never be able to learn the full extent of the bribes, kickbacks and under-the-table payments that took place under [his] nose."

Despite Annan's assertion that his son Kojo's business relationship with Cotecna — a Swiss company implicated in the Oil-for-Food scandal — ended in 1998, Kojo continued to receive $2,500-per-month payments from the firm until last February.

Annan said he was "surprised" and "disappointed" to learn this.

Of course he was. (Rep. King put it best: Annan is guilty of either "criminal conduct or criminal negligence.")

But he received a vote of confidence last week as Britain joined Germany, France, Russia and China in praising Annan's tenure. And President Bush declined to say whether Annan should quit, yet called for "full disclosure."

Part of this is tactical.

The United Nations, even at this late date, can still play a useful role in the upcoming Iraqi elections. Neither Bush nor British Prime Minister Tony Blair wants to personalize the dispute quite yet.

As for France and Russia (and maybe Germany and China), there remain questions concerning complicity in the Oil-for-Food thefts. Criminal accomplices rarely push for the truth.

In any event, it's quite clear that Kofi Annan has more than outlived the usefulness he might once have had.

Indeed, given what is known now about his role in ignoring the Rwandan genocide 10 years ago, it's pretty clear that he never deserved the secretary-general position in the first place.

But that was then.

Now, it's time for Kofi Annan to take his leave.


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