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Annan shrugs off resignation call

'I'm carrying on with my work,' secretary-general says

From Richard Roth
CNN

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Sen. Norm Coleman, left, is calling for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to resign.
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- In his first televised comments since a member of the U.S. Senate called for his resignation, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan shrugged off the senator Tuesday.

"I have quite a lot of work to do and I'm carrying on with my work," Annan told reporters inside the U.N. Secretariat Building. "We have a major agenda next year and the year ahead, trying to reform this organization, so we'll carry on."

Asked if that means he definitely won't resign, Annan responded, "I think you heard my answer."

None of the United Nations' 191 member states has demanded Annan step aside.

The U.S. State Department has declined to take a position on whether Annan should resign.

But calls for Annan's resignation have emanated from Republicans on Capitol Hill, where legislators have been investigating the defunct Iraq oil-for-food program.

Since U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican who is chairman of one of the investigatory panels in Washington, called for Annan to resign one week ago, the world has rallied to the secretary-general's side.

The outgoing U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Danforth, declined to offer support for a European and African bloc of nations backing Annan, but he urged against prejudging the results of the congressional queries or an independent probe under way for the United Nations headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

"An investigation is going on in a very serious manner involving fraud [and] bribery, and that investigation must be conducted in a very full manner, and it must be conducted with an open mind," Danforth said. "You can't conduct a fair and full investigation if before it even takes place, or before it's completed, you're already proclaiming that various people are involved or not involved."

The oil-for-food program, administered by the United Nations, was designed to allow Iraq, when it was under economic sanctions after the Persian Gulf War, to sell oil and use the proceeds to buy food and medicine to mitigate the sanctions' impact on the Iraqi people.

Coleman's committee has charged that Saddam Hussein was able to siphon off $6.7 billion in oil revenues from the program and made an additional $13.7 billion smuggling oil in contravention of international sanctions.

The U.N.-monitored oil-for-food program took effect in 1996 and ended in 2003.

Over seven years, Iraq sold $64 billion worth of oil to 248 companies incorporated in 61 countries, according to Volcker's inquiry.

Investigators are exploring possible corruption in the program's management and misuse of the funds, including whether officials were bribed or vendors kicked profits back to Saddam's deposed regime.

Kofi Annan's son, Kojo, worked for a firm, Cotecna, that won a lucrative contract to conduct inspections of shipments of humanitarian goods. The younger Annan's attorneys say he is cooperating with the investigation and is "guilty of no wrongdoing."

Monday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed support for the elder Annan.

"I believe that Kofi Annan is doing a fine job as United Nations secretary-general," Blair said at a news conference in London. "I've had the occasion to be grateful for his leadership on many occasions, and I very much hope that is he allowed to get on with his job."

Annan's second five-year term as the head of the United Nations runs through 2006.

Besides Coleman, five members of the U.S. House of Representatives are pushing legislation that would withhold a portion of U.S. dues to the United Nations if the organization does not cooperate fully with the oil-for-food probes.

The United States pays 20 percent of the United Nations' operating costs.


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