Washington's U.N. ambassador John Danforth has warmly praised the world body in a farewell address to the Security Council. Ambassador Danforth defended the United Nations against U.S. critics, and assured Council members of Washington's commitment to multilateral cooperation.
The former Republican senator from Missouri and presidential envoy is retiring after only six months at the United Nations. At his final Security Council session, he asked for a few minutes to underscore the importance Washington places on the world body's work.
"I can remember when President Bush telephoned and asked me if I would serve as the U.S. representative at the United Nations, and I asked the president if he believed this was an important job, and whether he thought the United Nations was important, and he assured me that in his view it was, and the experience that I've had serving here has proved to me that the United Nations is indeed very, very important," he said.
Ambassador Danforth, who previously served as President Bush's special envoy to Sudan, said he was particularly pleased that the Security Council had played a role in arranging a peace agreement between the Khartoum government and southern Sudanese rebels. He also pointed to the tsunami relief effort as an example of the world body's value.
At the same time, he noted that U.N. critics are becoming increasingly vocal, particularly in the United States, where mismanagement of the U.N.'s Iraq oil-for-food program has prompted calls for Secretary-General Kofi Annan's resignation.
"A lot of people criticize the United Nations, especially recently, and there's a lot to criticize in the United Nations, the oil-for-food issue, the problem of abuses by peacekeepers especially in the Congo, and there will always be things to criticize, but those points of criticism do not detract from the essential value of the United Nations," he added.
He also responded to critics, many in his own party, who urge that Washington withdraw from the United Nations because of what they perceive as an anti-U.S. bias.
"A lot of people have voiced concern, even opposition to the United Nations. I think the reasons for this are understandable, people have complained, 'Well. the United Nations doesn't always support the U.S., especially on the war in Iraq.' Various representatives of various countries, people in secretariat from time to time make comments we would rather have them not make, and I would simply say in that connection that the United States is a big country, it's a very strong country, it's a well-meaning country, it really tries to do the right thing," he said. "And nobody likes opposition, and nobody likes criticism, but simply because the U.S. is big and because the U.S. is strong, it's important that we be particularly open to views of other people and the views sometimes are different from our own."
Ambassador Danforth resigned in November, after President Bush's re-election, saying he wanted to go home to be with his wife, who is in poor health. He has, however, suggested he might accept another position as a presidential envoy, if one were offered. His successor as U.N. ambassador has not been named.