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U.S. denies push to oust Annan

From CNN Senior Producer Phil Hirschkorn

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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- The Bush administration is not seeking to remove U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan from his post and remains confident in his leadership, U.S. Ambassador John Danforth said Thursday.

Danforth told reporters that Annan was "doing a good job," but the United States wanted a "comprehensive" investigation of the oil-for-food program the United Nations ran for Iraq for seven years, until a U.S.-led invasion deposed Saddam Hussein in 2003.

"We are not suggesting the resignation or pushing for the resignation of the secretary-general," Danforth said.

"We have worked with him very well in the past, we anticipate working with him very well for the future for the time to come."

Annan has borne the brunt of criticism from Capitol Hill Republicans, who are investigating how Saddam illegally siphoned billions of dollars in surcharges on his U.N.-approved crude oil shipments and kickbacks from vendors of approved humanitarian goods.

The investigation also focuses on the illegal smuggling of oil outside the program's purview.

And last week, President Bush told reporters he wanted "a full and fair and open accounting" of the program "in order for the taxpayers of the United States to feel comfortable about supporting the United Nations."

But Danforth said, "No one, to my knowledge, has cast doubt on the personal integrity of the secretary-general -- no one -- and we certainly don't."

The United Nations has appointed former U.S. Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul Volker to conduct an independent inquiry into irregularities, including alleged fraud and bribery in the program. His next report is due in January.

"Let the investigation go forward," Danforth said. "The investigation has to be comprehensive, all the evidence has to come out, there has to be full cooperation with the investigation by all parties."

Danforth said Annan, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who is serving his second five-year term at the helm of the UN, was providing effective leadership on Iraqi elections, Israeli-Palestinian issues, and the crisis in Sudan.

Senator Norm Coleman, who leads one of the panels probing the oil-for-food program, reiterated his call for Annan's resignation in a Tuesday interview with CNN.

"Kofi Annan's legacy is the oil-for-food program that allowed Saddam Hussein to fund terrorism, to bribe folks who are tied to member states, and rebuild his military capacity to get around sanctions. That's his legacy," Coleman told CNN's "American Morning."

"Kofi Annan is a fine man, but oversaw this incredible disaster of incredible magnitude and really should step down, if we care about the U.N. making reform and regaining credibility," Coleman added.

Danforth offered a different view, speaking, he said, on behalf of the State Department and the White House.

"We are expressing confidence in the Secretary General and in his continuing in office,'" Danforth said.

"We're also saying that the investigation is critically important, that there is a cloud over the United Nations, there's no doubt about it, that the only way to dispel the cloud is to let the sunlight in, and that means a thorough investigation."

The oil-for-food program was launched in 1996, after years of international economic sanctions imposed on Iraq for invading Kuwait in 1990.

Under the program, Baghdad was permitted to choose the buyers of its limited oil exports and earmarked the revenue to purchase food and medical supplies for its population of 22 million people.

Iraq sold $64 billion worth of oil to companies in 61 countries, according to Volcker.

Since the fall of Saddam's regime, oil ministry records obtained in Iraq point to vouchers for Iraqi oil being awarded to a variety of political officials around the world, including the adminstrator of the U.N. program, who has denied any wrongdoing.

Also under investigation is Annan's son, who worked for a firm contracted by the U.N. to inspect shipments of humanitarian goods.


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