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Report on UN Modernization Overshadowed by Annan Resignation Talk


Questions about U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's future have clouded the release of a high level panel's report on reforming the world body. Panel members and diplomats are expressing confidence in the embattled secretary-general, amid charges of corruption in the Iraq oil-for-food program.

The report presented to Secretary-General Annan Thursday is described as perhaps the most comprehensive and ambitious review undertaken since the United Nations was founded.

The 95-page document contains 101 recommendations, including a revamping of the Security Council and other U.N. bodies, and a restructuring of the U.N. bureaucracy.

It was written by a panel of 16 eminent persons, led by former Thai Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun. But as Mr. Panyarachun briefed journalists on the report Thursday, he was forced to address the question to Mr. Annan's future as secretary-general.

"I personally have the greatest respect for Secretary-General Kofi Annan, so we have faith and confidence in his integrity, and I think that at this juncture of the history of the United Nations its important that he continues to provide the leadership that is needed to carry out change process and go ahead with the recommendations we have submitted to him," he said.

At another point, the former Thai prime minister was asked if the growing controversy surrounding the Iraq oil for food program had given a greater sense of urgency to the issues of U.N. reform. The chief of the report writing staff, Stanford University professor Stephen Stedman, interrupted to answer.

"You don't need oil-for-food to have sense of urgency about this house - 800,000 people died in a genocide in 1994 and nobody responded," he said. "You had several members going to war over Iraq with other members saying 'no'. There's no consensus whatsoever in the member states regarding what is proper role of the United Nations in terms of security. What are the threats that we face. None of that. If that doesn't make you urgency about need for change, it's not clear to me how oil for food is going to put you over the edge to now make it more serious."

The issue of Mr. Annan's future grew in intensity through the day as word spread that President Bush had called for a "full and fair" probe of allegations into oil-for-food program corruption.

Algerian Ambassador Abdallah Baali, briefing reporters in his capacity as this month's president of the Security Council, said there was no call among member states for the secretary-general's resignation.

"This debate has been taking place outside the United nations and in the media and as far as we are concerned, Algeria and the other members of the Untied Nations, the secretary-general has been elected for five years, his mandate ends in December, 2005, so the rest is just discussion outside the United Nations and between the media and other people," he said.

President Bush refused to say Thursday whether the secretary-general should resign.

But a day earlier, the head of a U.S. Senate subcommittee investigating the humanitarian program, did issue a resignation call. Senator Norm Coleman's comment in a U.S. newspaper opinion page article came after revelations that Mr. Annan's son had received monthly payments from a key oil-for-food program contractor until early this year. The payments totaled more than $125,000.

U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard this week rejected calls for the secretary-general's resignation, saying "a few voices doesn't make a chorus". He noted that no country has asked for Mr. Annan to step down, and pointed to a letter of support signed by 2,700 U.N. staff members.

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