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Tuesday, March 15, 2005


Things are changing in Turtle Bay

Der Spiegel reports glumly on Kofi Annan's prospects for finishing his term. (He must really be in bad shape if Der Spiegel finally twigged to the story.)

Under fire following a year of scandals, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan is seeking to appease his worst enemies.

That shouldn't be much of a stretch for the Secretary General.

But his own employees fear he is kowtowing to the United States in a way that will undermine the global body. And even if his charm offensive works, his days could still be numbered.

The UN's Kofi Annan is currently conducting a charm offensive with the White House and Congress. You can see the weariness in Kofi Annan's eyes these days -- and even his boyish smile does little to hide the wear caused by what the United Nations Secretary General himself has called an "annus horriblis." But things could get even worse in what is expected to be Annan's most trying year yet at the helm of the international body.

The only person I have ever heard actually use such a term (properly spelt 'annus horribilus' for any Spiegel editors in this blog's readership) is Queen Elizabeth II, in her 1992 Christmas speech. I suppose that tells you a little something about how Mr Annan views himself.

Already, he's been plagued by UN sex scandals and corruption surrounding the "Oil for Food" program in Iraq -- a deal that allowed Saddam Hussein's regime, despite the embargo placed on Baghdad by the international community, to make billions of dollars. Revelations that UN employees, including the official charged with overseeing the program, and his affiliates were taking cuts from the profits has led to one of the institution's worst crises ever. The next chapter in the scandal is expected to come this month when a UN investigative commission will determine whether Annan's enterprising son Kojo was part of the scam. If the allegations against his son are proven, the episode could spell the end of Annan.

"Come Christmas, Kofi won't be in office," an American Senator said at a security conference held in Munich one month ago.

Officially, Nobel laureate Annan still has two years left in office, but he knows his gig could be up before then. A resolution is currently making its way through the United States Congress calling for him to get the ax. He has even fewer friends down the street at the White House. Since his criticism that the Iraq war was "illegal" during the presidential campaign, Annan has been accused of having sought to thwart George W. Bush's re-election.

I cannot imagine why anyone would ever let such an idea enter his head.

Commenting on Bush's tapping of (reputed anti-UN conservative John) Bolton for the position (of America's ambassador to the UN), the left-leaning German daily Die Tageszeitung compared it to "asking Iran to take over chairmanship of the UN Commission for Women's Rights."

Or perhaps it is more like Libya being chairman of the UN Commission on Human Rights. With a supporting cast of Cuba, Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Saudi Arabia. That would also be ridiculous and unimaginable, wouldn't it?

Annan, however, would like to complete his term.

Gotta keep Kojo from moving back in somehow.

After all, (Kofi Annan) wants to be remembered as the man who reformed the UN. At the end of the month he will present his report on the restructuring of the UN, which is expected to include a major overhaul of the Security Council. His advisors fear that if he buckles under pressure from the United States, it could be the death knell for the UN.

No, you mustn't criticise the saintly Secretary General for embezzling billions, protecting dictators, condoning sexual harassment at UN HQ, and running pedophile rings. That will endanger UN reform!

At the same time, Annan knows he can't challenge Bush while pushing for the world body's reform. So, these days, he's marching to the tune of rapprochement with even his most bitter opponents in Washington. In doing so, he appears to be following the advice of former President Bill Clinton's ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke, who offered Annan some job-saving tips at a secret meeting in December. "The UN," he was quoted as saying, "cannot succeed if it is in open dispute and constant friction with its founding nation, its host nation and its largest contributor."

The placative gestures on Annan's part that have followed the meeting have been nothing short of astonishing. So much so, in fact, that some in New York are already comparing his charm offensive to the one Bush conducted to cement trans-Atlantic relations in recent weeks.

"It's crucial that relations with the US be restored," said Annan's new British cabinet chief, Mark Malloch Brown -- who is considered to be the man really pulling the strings inside the UN right now. Brown, a talented communicator who previously led the UN Development Program, immediately went to Washington after his appointment, where he promised members of Congress a rigorous and thorough investigation of the Iraq scandal.

In his office on the 38th floor of UN headquarters in New York, Brown now receives journalists almost every day -- and he's often critical of the institution for which he works. The corruption scandal, he says, is "full-blown," before adding: "We have to restore the trust of the American people in the moral integrity of the UN." The stakes are high, too: Bush has threatened to freeze payments from Washington, the UN's largest contributor, if the scandal is not fully resolved.

The Brit has been just as active inside the UN as outside. At the end of February, after an employee came forward and accused Ruud Lubbers of sexual harassment, Brown gave the then-UN High Commissioner for Refugees an ultimatum: He could either resign of his own accord or Annan would fire him. The former Dutch prime minister left on his own will.

Still, Annan's new tack has disquieted many inside the UN, where veteran diplomats complain that he is bowing before the US on his knees.

Isn't that a bit redundant?

"Many people here are really irritated," says Peter Hansen, who will be leaving as head of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees at the end of the month. There are many signs that the US is cynically using the investigations currently underway at the UN as an opportunity to question its entire existence and that angers many.

Even today, only the misconduct of UN diplomats is being probed -- despite the fact that the US not only knew the Iraq embargo was being broken but also sanctioned it. According to classified US government documents, in the interest of "national security interests," Washington allowed billions of dollars in oil deliveries to go to its allies Jordan and Turkey. Officials in Amman and Ankara claimed they couldn't do without Saddam's cheap oil. Even Malloch Brown doesn't let any opportunity pass to remind people about the US's involvement in this major part of the scandal.

But he doesn't want let anything generate another serious row with the US. "I think a lot of the poison that was sprayed earlier will now vaporize," he says.

(Emphasis added.)

There must really be some struggles going on behind the scenes, or being the sex scandal-ridden UN, beneath the sheets. Wonder who will come out on top? Whoever it is, the only guarantee is that it will be a transnational progressive enemy of freedom.


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