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Last Updated: Monday, 6 December, 2004, 14:57 GMT
Critics circle UN secretary general
By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent, BBC News website

American critics of the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan have been accused by a former British UN ambassador of leading a "lynch mob."

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
Annan: Second term ends in 2006

The former diplomat, Lord David Hannay, said of those who have called for Mr Annan's resignation: "The United States has many traditions, some good and some bad.

"The worst of the bad is the lynch mob. The best of the good is due process. We need more due process and less lynch mob," he said.

Oil-for-food scandal

The war of words has erupted over an investigation by a US Senate committee into scandals over the UN programme in which Iraq sold oil for food during the years of sanctions.

There is in fact no mechanism to sack a UN Secretary General.

It has been revealed that Saddam Hussein siphoned money out of the programme for his own uses.

The Republican Senator Norm Coleman, who chairs the committee, complained that the UN was not being forthcoming enough.

"One conclusion has become abundantly clear: Kofi Annan should resign," he said.

"As long as Mr Annan remains in charge, the world will never be able to learn the full extent of the bribes, kickbacks and under-the-table payments that took place under the UN's collective nose."

Payments to son

A complication for Mr Annan is that it has emerged that his son Kojo received payments from a Swiss company after it was given a contract for monitoring the programme.

Although payments to the son were not connected to Iraq - they involved West Africa - the admission has enabled critics of the father to widen their attack. The UN had previously said the payments had ended before the contract had been granted.

Statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled in Baghdad, April 2003
Annan fell out with Bush over Iraq

For supporters of Mr Annan like Lord Hannay, an investigation set up by the UN into the oil-for-food scandal should be enough.

The investigation is led by the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Paul Volcker, helped by Justice Richard Goldstone - the South African judge who prosecuted war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda - and by Professor Mark Pieth, a Swiss expert on money-laundering.

"We should rely on the Volcker inquiry," said David Hannay.

There is in fact no mechanism to sack a UN Secretary General. Mr Annan is currently in his second term and this ends on 31 December 2006. He has hinted recently that he will not seek an unprecedented third term.

Long term debate

But his own immediate future has also become bound up with something wider - a debate about the future of the UN itself.

A recently released report by a panel appointed by Mr Annan called for an expanded Security Council and a more dynamic and interventionist role for the UN. Lord Hannay was on the panel.
Never has the UN been more disrespectable or useless
National Review website

The current arguments make for a hostile atmosphere in which this report has to be discussed.

Mr Annan's "neo-conservative" opponents regard the oil-for-food as a symbol of the incompetence and worse of the United Nations.

The National Review, which describes itself as "America's Premier Site for Conservative News, Analysis, and Opinion" commented: "Never has the UN been more disrespectable or useless."

Mr Annan's own position was further weakened in conservative eyes when he said in a BBC interview just before the US presidential election that the invasion of Iraq was "illegal."

So for one side, talk of reforming the UN is pointless. They see the future more in terms of encouraging what is called the "community of democracies."

For the other, the cries of the neo-cons for Mr Annan's blood sound like a rehearsal for a campaign against the report. By destabilising the Secretary General, this argument goes, they seek to destabilise the UN itself.

Cautious Bush

The attitude of the Bush administration to Mr Annan, a Secretary General it once strongly supported, has been careful.

It is clear that President Bush and Mr Annan have fallen out over Iraq.

But the president was cautious in his remarks concerning Mr Annan's future. He did not support the Secretary General explicitly but nor did he attack him. He simply said that the UN should reveal all about the oil furore.

The longer-term view of the new administration towards the reform of the UN therefore remains to be determined.

UN chief reacts to son's payments
30 Nov 04 |  Middle East
Iraq oil corruption 'tops $21bn'
16 Nov 04 |  Business
US publishes Saddam 'bribe list'
07 Oct 04 |  Middle East
Iraq oil-for-food probe spreads
21 Jun 04 |  Business
UN chief hits out at fraud claims
29 Apr 04 |  Middle East
Oil-for-food 'made Saddam $10bn'
19 Mar 04 |  Business

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