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US Calls on UN Chief to Release All Oil-for-Food Facts

Washington's ambassador to the United Nations has urged Secretary-General Kofi Annan to promptly release all information concerning the scandal-ridden Iraq oil-for-food program. The world body was rocked over the weekend by revelations that a key oil-for food contractor made regular payments to Mr. Annan's son.

U.S. Ambassador John Danforth met privately with the secretary-general Monday to discuss the burgeoning investigation into alleged corruption in the oil for food program.

The meeting came on the heels of news reports that Mr. Annan's 27-year-old son, Kojo Annan, received monthly payments from the Swiss-based Cotecna inspections firm until February of this year.

During much of that time, Cotecna held a lucrative U.N. contract to monitor shipments arriving in Iraq under the oil-for-food humanitarian program.

U.N. officials had previously said that the younger Mr. Annan stopped working for Cotecna about the time it won the oil for food contract in 1998.

Ambassador Danforth called allegations of oil for food corruption "serious", and said he had advised the secretary-general to release all facts in the case promptly.

"It is important to have the facts presented in a comprehensive way so the public, the international public but certainly the American public is convinced there has been no cover-up, nothing has been withheld, everything is out there, everything has been investigated, every lead has been run down, every relevant piece of paper examined," he said. "All the facts are out there, everything is known. I'm not for prejudging anything. I'm for the absolute laying out of all evidence."

Secretary-General Annan told reporters Monday he had been surprised and disappointed to learn that his son had received payments totaling $30,000 a year from the Cotecna firm as recently as last February. He acknowledged that the payments create the appearance of a conflict of interest, but denied having any knowledge of the deal.

"He's an independent businessman, he's a grown man, and I don't get involved with his activities, and he doesn't get involved in mine," he said. "And also as I've stated earlier, I have no involvement with granting of contracts, either this Cotecna one or others."

Early this year, Mr. Annan appointed former U.S. Central Bank chief Paul Volcker to investigate charges of corruption in the oil for food program. Mr. Volcker has declined to share internal U.N. documents and other information pending completion of his probe.

But Ambassador Danforth Monday called on Mr. Annan to cooperate fully with U.S. congressional investigations.

"Clearly it is within the right of Congress to conduct investigations on matters that pertain to national policy, the international affairs of the United States, the relationship between the U.S. and the U.N. All this is clearly within purview of the U.S. Congress," he said. "Congressional committees are going to insist on that right, they have that right."

Secretary-General Annan Monday turned aside a reporter's question about whether he might consider resignation in light of the allegations. But he acknowledged that the current climate makes it more difficult to achieve his objectives, particularly his effort to reform the world body. A panel of eminent persons he appointed last year to recommend a reform proposal, including an expansion of the powerful Security Council, is due to publish its report this week.