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Annan Promises Change, Seeks End to the Bashing (WASHINGTON POST) By Dafna Linzer 02/04/05 Page A12)Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A61871-2005Feb3.html WASHINGTON POST WASHINGTON POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan promised swift action and major management changes yesterday in the hope of repairing relations with the United States and boosting morale among his own staff -- both badly shaken by the United Nations´ protracted role in Iraq.

But in the hours after an independent inquiry suggested that a former top U.N. official may have profited from his position, Annan´s office also said it was time to stop bashing the humanitarian organization.

He announced that he will take disciplinary action against Benon Sevan, who ran the U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq, and said diplomatic immunity will be lifted from any U.N. employee who may face criminal charges stemming from the ongoing investigation of allegations of corruption and mismanagement in the program.

The measures were some of the toughest of Annan´s tenure, and aides and former colleagues said they were intended to assure critics that he is serious about fixing problems.

"The whole scandal, and then the avalanche of criticism and personal charges against him, sent him a wakeup call the likes of which he has never seen," said John Ruggie, a former assistant secretary general at the United Nations who teaches at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. "In that sense, the scandal may have done Annan a favor."

It is unclear whether those actions will be enough to quell a torrent of criticism and calls for Annan´s resignation from some Republican quarters in Washington.

Rep Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said yesterday´s findings by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul A. Volcker paint a "picture of mismanagement, neglect and political manipulation."

"I am reluctant to conclude that the U.N. is damaged beyond repair, but these revelations certainly point in this direction," Hyde said.

But Annan´s new chief of staff, Mark Malloch Brown, countered during a news conference that the report also showed that the United Nations fed millions of Iraqis under the oil-for-food program and reversed a slide toward a humanitarian disaster in a country under harsh U.N. sanctions.

He urged countries to halt sharp attacks on the organization and give Annan´s team a chance to put revisions and management changes in place.

"Everyone feels the U.N. is finally standing up for itself," said one senior U.N. official who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity after the organization´s staff members were told to refrain from interviews.

Over the past week, Annan had prepared his organization for difficult days after the report´s release, but staff members and others said Malloch Brown´s forceful defense of the United Nations was a welcome moment for an organization traumatized by Iraq.

When the United States went to war in March 2003 without U.N. approval, there was concern inside the organization that President Bush´s warnings that the United Nations was becoming irrelevant were true.

Many at U.N. headquarters were against the Iraq war from the beginning and became embittered with the United States, first for limiting the United Nations´ role in postwar Iraq and then for complaining about the organization´s unwillingness to take on more responsibilities there.

Since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the United Nations has played various roles in Iraq, first as a humanitarian provider, then as a weapons inspector -- and ultimately as a target, when the United Nations´ Baghdad headquarters was blown up by insurgents in August 2003.

U.N. staff members, willing to go anywhere in the world for humanitarian assistance, demanded that Annan pull the organization out of Iraq, and under intense pressure he ended up firing the U.N. security chief and demoting another security officer over the attack.

Yesterday, Volcker made clear that his 219-page report "is not the whole story by a long shot." He is expected to complete another report by summer, this one dealing with a controversial role played by Annan´s son, who worked for a company involved in the oil-for-food program. But it will also focus attention on the role of the Security Council, including the United States and other members who authorized or turned a blind eye to allegations of corruptions and mismanagement during the program´s seven-year history. (© 2005 The Washington Post Company 02/04/05)

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