U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has named a new chief of staff as part of an expected shakeup of senior staff. The shakeup comes as Mr. Annan struggles to cope with a series of scandals, a staff revolt, and strained relations with the world body's most powerful member state.
Secretary-General Annan told a hastily called news conference Monday that his long-time friend and U.N. colleague Mark Malloch Brown would take over as his chief of staff. As if to highlight the urgency of the change, he said Mr. Brown would also retain his current position as head of the world body's largest agency, the U.N. Development Program.
"There is clearly a need for continuity at this critical moment, and I would expect Mark to continue to oversee the operations of UNDP until such time as I make an appointment of a new administrator," the secretary-general said.
Mr. Brown, a 51-year-old British citizen, replaces 70-year-old Iqbal Riza of Pakistan, who unexpectedly retired two weeks ago.
Sitting beside the secretary-general as the announcement was made, Mr. Brown acknowledged that his appointment comes at a difficult moment for the United Nations.
"It's been the subject of wide commentary that staff morale is not at its highest at this time, and we face also in the weeks ahead recommendations that may come from Mr. Volcker," he said.
A panel led by former U.S. central bank chief Paul Volcker is due to issue a report later this month on alleged corruption in the now-defunct Iraq oil-for-food program. The report is expected to implicate at least one high-level U.N. official in a bribery and kickback scheme.
Word of a high-level staff reshuffle hit a fever pitch late last month when Mr. Riza suddenly retired. Two other U.N. officials, Undersecretary-General for Management Catherine Bertini of the United States, and U.N. Controller Jean-Pierre Halbwachs of Mauritius, also unexpectedly stepped down.
Secretary-General Annan suggested Monday that other key aides will be leaving, including one of his closest advisers, Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast.
"Kieran is still the undersecretary general for the department of political affairs, but I must admit that I do intend to make further changes, changes that will affect senior people already in the building, and maybe some who are outside headquarters, so this is the first in a series of changes or reshuffle that may happen," he said.
Mr. Annan dodged a reporter's question about whether Mr. Prendergast, a British national, would take over as his special Middle East envoy. That job came open last month with the resignation of the Norwegian Terje Roed-Larsen of Norway.
Mr. Annan would only say he had a long list of candidates to fill the Middle East envoy's post.
The secretary-general appeared sensitive to suggestions he might be favoring one country over another in his appointments. He said specifically he will not appoint a U.S. citizen to replace Mr. Brown, because two of the four main U.N. agencies are already headed by Americans.
Mr. Annan has recently come under intense criticism in some quarters in the United States. One influential senator wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal newspaper calling on the secretary-general to step down because of U.N. involvement in oil-for-food program corruption.
The New York Times revealed Monday that the secretary-general recently met a group of friends at the home of former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Richard Holbrooke to discuss ways of rescuing the world body and saving his job. The Times reported that participants at the meeting had urged Mr. Annan to repair relations with Washington, where some Bush administration officials thought he had worked against the president's re-election.
Mr. Annan replied sharply Monday when asked if he had sent the wrong signal by meeting at the home of Ambassador Holbrooke, who had been a foreign policy adviser to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
"You also read in the press I've been talking to lots of people here and abroad, academics, so it was part of the process of consultations, and I've spoken to people of both parties," he said. "And I don't think one should worry about whom I talk to."
Among those Mr. Annan has been listening to is U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Secretary Powell came to U.N. headquarters last week for a private chat. Afterward, as the two men stood side by side, both of them said that despite bad patches, there is a willingness on both sides to work through disagreements.
"We support the United Nations," Secretary Powell said. "It doesn't mean that from time to time there won't be disagreements between the United Nations leadership, the secretary-general and the United States. And when that occurs we try to work our way through these disagreements."
"We have had bad patches, which is also normal," said Mr. Annan. "And I look forward to a constructive and cooperative relationship as we move forward."
Diplomatic niceties aside, however, U.S. and U.N. officials say 2005 is going to be rougher for Mr. Annan than 2004, which he referred to at his end-of-year news conference as a "horrible year."
In addition to the looming oil-for-food allegations and the frayed relationship with Washington, he faces a revolt by angry staff members who allege he has shown favoritism to senior officials charged with wrongdoing. And on top of that, he will have to address what are expected to be explosive revelations of widespread sexual exploitation by U.N. peacekeeping forces in Africa.
As his new chief of staff Mark Malloch Brown put it, "this is indeed a difficult moment" for Mr. Annan.