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Annan Reviews 'Difficult Year'; Criticizes Oil-For-Food Coverage

Secretary-General Kofi Annan says a difficult year is ending at the United Nations with tempers flaring in budget talks and the fate of critical reforms in doubt. The usually reserved secretary-general lashed out at journalists during an end-of-year news conference.

Mr. Annan urged member states Wednesday to put aside differences over next year's budget in the interest of saving badly needed reforms. With the current budget due to expire at the end of the month, he said ongoing day-and-night budget negotiations have been marked by tensions, angry exchanges and very little progress.

"I think the atmosphere is a bit tense. Tempers are high, and there's quite a bit of mistrust," he said. "There is a sense that they are operating in an atmosphere of threats and intimidation, which some of them say they resent."

Mr. Annan himself showed flashes of temper during his annual yearend news conference. He harshly criticized what he called unfair press coverage of his role, and that of his son Kojo, in the Iraq oil-for-food scandal.

"I hope you ladies and gentlemen of the press would also do some reflection on your own as to how you have covered that event," he said.

An oil-for-food inquiry committee headed by former U.S. central bank chief Paul Volcker found fault with Mr. Annan's management of the program. But some reporters have repeatedly asked questions about a Mercedes-Benz car Kojo Annan purchased tax-free by using his father's diplomatic immunity.

When correspondent James Bone of The Times of London told the secretary-general Wednesday that his version of the events "didn't make sense", Mr. Annan exploded.

"I think you are being very cheeky here," he said.

"Well, let me - Sir, let me ask my question," responded Mr. Bone.

"No, hold on. Hold on. Listen, James Bone. You have been behaving like an overgrown schoolboy in this room for many, many months and years," said Mr. Annan. "You are an embarrassment to your colleagues and to your profession. Please stop misbehaving."

Mr. Annan's comment drew a rebuke from the head of the U.N. Correspondent's Association, who asserted that the journalist was not an embarrassment, and was entitled to ask his question.

The reform package Mr. Annan supports also suffered a setback during the day. Negotiations on reshaping the discredited U.N. human rights machinery were suspended until mid-January, all but ensuring that the body will live on, at least through its next scheduled meeting in March.

During his hour-long session with reporters, Mr. Annan reflected on the difficulties of the past year. Acknowledging that he will step down at the end of next year, he suggested that his successor, whoever he or she might be, should have a thick skin and a sense of humor.

He said he hopes to focus his last year in office on three areas: fighting poverty and disease, U.N. reform, and peace and security. But he said he expects the agenda will be dominated by other issues. As examples, he named the Middle East, including Iraq, Lebanon and the Israeli-Palestinian question, as well as terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.