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Annan Backs UN Reform; Defends Mission of World Body

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan says the organization is in need of reform, but remains the international community's best hope for facing global threats and challenges. Secretary-general addressed a forum of reporters and policy experts after meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, Mr. Annan repeated a pledge to cooperate fully with an ongoing investigation of the U.N.'s much-criticized Oil-for-Food Program in Iraq, to make public the inquiry's final report on widespread allegations of corruption, and to act on its findings.

But while acknowledging the need for reform at the U.N., the secretary-general vigorously defended the world body as relevant and greatly needed on the world stage. He made a plea for nations to unite to defeat diverse threats such as terrorism, genocide and AIDS - and to do so under the U.N. banner.

"And I submit to you, ladies and gentleman, that the only universal instrument that can bring states together in such a global effort is the United Nations," said Kofi Annan. "I am the first to acknowledge that the United Nations is not perfect. But our world will not find a better instrument for forging a sustained, global response to today's threats."

Mr. Annan spoke a few blocks away from the White House, where President Bush ordered last year's invasion of Iraq without U.N. approval. The secretary-general said every state has the right to take pre-emptive action in the face of an imminent threat, but expressed hope for a closer working relationship between the United Nations and its biggest financial donor.

"America's support and leadership has always been crucial to a strong and successful United Nations," he said. "And today America, no less than any other state, needs global cooperation to be secure."

Mr. Annan said that cooperation extends to Iraq, where he noted the United Nations has helped train election workers and open registration centers in advance of the country's national election scheduled for next month.

Earlier, those efforts were praised by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who spoke with reporters after meeting with Mr. Annan.

"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," said Colin Powell. "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 Powell added that the Bush administration has confidence in Mr. Annan, and shares the secretary-general's desire to, as he put it, "get to the bottom" of the Oil-for-Food Program controversy.