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Ambassador Danforth Reflects on Brief UN Tenure

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Danforth says he is leaving his post because he wants to go home to Missouri. Ambassador Danforth took a parting shot at the General Assembly, while carefully avoiding any endorsement of Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

A day after his resignation announcement surprised U.N. observers, Ambassador Danforth said he had decided to quit immediately after President Bush was re-elected last month. At the time, the 68-year old former Missouri senator was considered a leading candidate for the post of Secretary of State.

But he told reporters Friday that the decision was a simple matter of priorities. For him, that meant spending more time with his wife, who suffered serious injuries last year in a fall.

"What I really want to do is go home," said John Danforth. "It's as simple as that, and I wanted to make that clear. In fact, three days after the election, I talked to the president's chief of staff, Andy Card, and told him that what we want to do is go home."

Ambassador Danforth admitted that he has not found it easy to adapt to the diplomatic life. As a U.S. senator, he was used to speaking his mind and voting his conscience. As representative to the United Nations, his job was to articulate U.S. foreign policy, which meant keeping silent at times when he might have wished to speak out.

In his less than six months on the job, however, he earned a reputation as a plain speaker, especially on the subject of Sudan. He previously served as President Bush's special envoy to Sudan, and he let loose his fury last month, when the General Assembly refused to pass a resolution condemning human rights abuses in Sudan.

"I just couldn't understand that," he said. "That was just plain wrong to say 'we just can't be bothered with the suffering of the people of Darfur and the people of Sudan.' It was just wrong. I am concerned that the General Assembly is essentially a place where 191 countries make statements, and some of the statements that they make are not very helpful in solving the problems of the world."

Ambassador Danforth's outspokenness on Sudan contrasted sharply with his comments on allegations of corruption within the U.N.-administered Iraq oil-for-food program.

Several countries, including the other four permanent Security Council members, have expressed confidence in Secretary-General Kofi Annan, amid charges that his son received payments from a key contractor in the scandal-plagued program.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, in an interview with the Reuters news agency Friday, was quoted as saying Mr. Annan was a "good" Secretary General.

But Ambassador Danforth stuck carefully to the Bush administration's position of studied neutrality.

"In the context of this oil-for-food controversy, it is important to have a thorough investigation," said John Danforth. "And it is important that the investigators and the rest of us who are interested in the success of the investigation go into this with an open mind. That means neither prejudging it on the side of innocence or the side of guilt. Just open mindedness."

The departing U.S. ambassador said he was encouraged by positive developments over the past few days in rallying U.N. and international support for Iraq's elections. He said Washington remains committed to what he called a "multilateralist foreign policy," adding "the United Nations is a part of that."

Ambassador Danforth will remain in his post until January 20, the day President Bush is sworn in for his second term in office.