U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has used his farewell news conference to defend his stewardship of the world body. VOA's correspondent at the U.N. Peter Heinlein reports Mr. Annan is promising to stay active in world affairs after he steps down at the end of the year.
Mr. Annan says the worst moments of his 10 years as U.N. chief were related to the Iraq conflict. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, he lamented the organization's inability to prevent the outbreak of war. He winced as he spoke of the loss of colleagues and friends in the bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.
But when it came to the Iraq oil-for-food scandal, perhaps the greatest blot on his record, Mr. Annan was staunchly defensive. He suggested some of the criticism had been unfair.
"Yes, there was some mismanagement, but I think when historians look at the records, they will draw the conclusion that, yes, there was mismanagement, there may have been several U.N. staff members that were engaged, but the scandal if any, was in the capitals, and with the 2,200 companies that made a deal with Saddam behind our backs," he said.
He argued that the good the world body has achieved over the past 10 years more than outweighs the damage done by the oil-for-food scandal.
"I hope the historians will realize that the U.N. is more than oil-for-food. The U.N. is a U.N. that coordinates tsunami, the U.N. that deals with the Kashmir earthquake, the U.N. that is pushing for equality and fighting to implement the Millennium Development Goals, the U.N. that is fighting for human dignity and the rights of others," he said.
He acknowledged sharp criticism of the U.N. and his stewardship, especially in conservative circles in the United States. But he defended the world body as an indispensable tool in international diplomacy.
"What I should say is that those who, instead of working to strengthen the U.N., would want to destroy it or weaken it, they should ask themselves, if the U.N. is no longer here, how do we deal with some of the issues that cross borders. Who is going to speak out and stand up for the poor, the weak and the voiceless. Whom are we going to turn to when you have the Lebanons. We saw it last summer. The U.N. was the only organization that could have stepped in and do what we did," he said.
Mr. Annan says in his final days in office, he hopes to be able to clarify outstanding questions with Sudan's leadership to pave the way for the introduction of blue-helmeted U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur.
The 68-year-old diplomat promises to continue working to promote causes that have been of concern to him during his 10 years in office. After what he has describes as a "long period underground," he plans to return to public life, speaking from time to time on issues such as human rights, global warming, and the problems of his native Africa. A slight smile crossed his face as he said "I don't think I'm going to fade away. I'm going to continue working."