Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan held talks Thursday centering on U.N. support for next month's Iraqi elections. Mr. Powell, in what was probably his last meeting with Mr. Annan before leaving office next month, said the U.N. effort seems to be on track.
U.S. officials made no secret of their disappointment last year when Mr. Annan withdrew most personnel from Iraq after the deadly bomb attack on U.N. headquarters in Baghdad in August 2003.
Though it has increased in recent weeks, the U.N. presence still numbers less than 100 international staffers, most of them providing technical support for the January 30 elections.
But in a joint news appearance with Mr. Annan, Secretary Powell said he thinks the U.N. is doing a good job in its election work, stressing not the size of the U.N. contingent in the country, but the number of Iraqis who have been trained to run the voting.
"The secretary-general has increased the number of U.N. personnel in the region, and as you heard yesterday, he has announced that they will be opening offices in due course in Basra and Irbil," he said. "And he advised me that some 6,000 Iraqi personnel have been trained in the conduct of the election and over 130,000 have been identified to actually run the various polling stations. So, the U.N. effort seems to be on track in support of the Iraqi effort; they have the principal responsibility."
Secretary-General Annan, for his part, said the U.N. is in Iraq for the long haul, focusing not just on the January elections, but prepared also to help Iraqi authorities work on a draft constitution, a national referendum on that document, and on national elections to be held by the end of 2005.
The secretary-general said he believes the United Nations has done all that it needed to do with regard to technical preparations for the January 30 voting. He said the success of the election depends in large part on whether Iraqi authorities can provide the necessary security, and see to it that voter participation is broad-based.
"Obviously, there are other aspects of the elections which the Iraqi government will have to take care of, particularly the context in which the elections are held," he said. "Security, political environment, and the efforts which we are helping them on to try and pull into the process those who are outside the process, make it as inclusive as possible. The more inclusive the process, the likelier that the results will not be contested."
Secretary Powell said he and Mr. Annan touched briefly on the controversy over alleged corruption in the U.N.-administered "oil-for-food" program in Iraq before the ouster of Saddam Hussein.
Mr. Annan has come under criticism for his handling of the program and there have been calls from some congressional Republicans for the secretary-general to step down.
But in his remarks here, Secretary Powell said that the Bush administration has confidence in Mr. Annan, and shares his desire to "get to the bottom" of the matter. The oil-for-food scandal is being investigated in Congress and within the U.N. by a panel led by former U.S. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker.