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Annan Accepts Blame for Mismanagement of Oil-for-Food in Iraq, No Plans to Resign


A commission investigating the Iraq oil-for-food program has issued a blistering indictment of top U.N. management, including Secretary-General Kofi Annan, his deputy, and the Security Council.The commission is recommending an urgent and thorough reform of the world body.

Commission chairman Paul Volcker Wednesday presented the Security Council a five-volume, one-thousand page report documenting countless failures in the operation of the oil-for-food program. The report spares no one, including Secretary-General Annan and his deputy. But Mr. Volcker saved some his harshest words for the Council itself, for allowing Saddam Hussein to turn the program to his advantage.

"In essence, the responsibility for the failures must be broadly shared, starting we believe with member states and Security Council itself. The program left too much initiative with Iraq. It was, as one past member of this Council has put it, a compact with the devil, and the devil had means for manipulating the program to his ends," he said.

The report concedes that the oil for food program did achieve great success in its humanitarian mission. It provided food and medicine for ordinary Iraqis suffering under the tough U.N. sanctions imposed after Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

But the authors outline in scathing detail how the humanitarian program operated without effective control either from the Security Council or Mr. Annan's secretariat. The lack of supervision allowed Saddam to pocket more than 10-billion dollars in illicit income, which he used to reward friends and buy influence, including at the United Nations.

On a separate issue, the Volcker panel reaffirmed its earlier finding that there was nothing to suggest Mr. Annan influenced the awarding of an oil-for-food contract to a firm that employed his son.

The secretary-general told the Council he accepts responsibility for the U.N. management failures, but said he was glad to hear he had not been accused of unethical behavior.

"The report is critical of me personally, and I accept the criticism. Earlier this year, the committee concluded I did not influence or attempt to influence the procurement process, and I'm glad to note that the conclusion is reaffirmed. But I accepted then and still accept the conclusion that I was not diligent or effective enough in pursuing investigation after fact, when I learned that company which employed my son had won the humanitarian inspection contract. I deeply regret that," he said.

Mr. Annan told reporters he has no intention of resigning, saying "we have work to do". He agreed with the Volcker panel that oil-for-food failures point up the need for U.N. reform, and urged world leaders gathering for a summit in New York next week to adopt reform measures.

Mr. Volcker is scheduled to issue one final report next month. It will address what is described as "wholesale corruption" within the oil-for-food program among private companies manipulated by Saddam Hussein.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton, in his comments to the Security Council Wednesday, also urged a closer look at the activities of some governments. "There were bribes, there were kickbacks, there was lax oversight from the Secretariat, and some member states turned a blind eye toward this corruption," he said.

Sources close to the investigation say Russia and France, whose companies had large oil-for-food contracts, will come under scrutiny in the final document.

The report issued Wednesday says France and Britain cooperated with the commission in its work, while Russia and China refused request for information. It said some agencies of the United States government were helpful, while others were not.

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