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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 February, 2005, 12:14 GMT
UN turmoil?
On Sunday, 13 February, 2005, Sir David Frost interviewed Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary General

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Kofi Annan
Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary General

DAVID FROST: Kofi Annan became Secretary-General of the United Nations eight years ago and in that time he's faced many challenges.

Recent ones including the Asian tsunami, of course, the humanitarian crisis in Darfur and of course the war in Iraq, a war that he, as we know, fervently opposed.

Few challenges, however, can be as great as the one he's currently facing - the oil for food scandal that saw Saddam Hussein's regime benefiting from a UN sponsored programme to the tune of 1.7 billion dollars.

It's implicated some senior UN officials and even maybe threatening to dislodge the Secretary-General himself.

I spoke to Kofi Annan during his visit to London this week and I began by asking him about nuclear weapons and just how many countries he was aware of with nuclear weapons or potential.

KOFI ANNAN: Well I think those who have the nuclear weapons are quite well known, we have about seven, eight of them, but there are estimates that about 30 countries can have it - have the capacity to have it - and this is why it is important that we strengthen our non-proliferation regime. And we do make suggestions about how you deal with the nuclear fuel cycle and come up with some arrangements.

DAVID FROST: Are you satisfied with the speed we're combating HIV Aids or do you think the world could do much more?

KOFI ANNAN: I think the world can do much, much more, we have the capacity, we have the means, what is required is the will to do more. It is very painful when you visit some of these countries and you see a patient, a patient on the verge of death, who knows that there is medication that could save him, and yet because of his poverty he cannot have it. He knows that the disease is not a killer in other societies, it's a curable disease, but in his case it's a death sentence. What do you tell him?

DAVID FROST: What do you tell him indeed? That brings us to the question obviously at the UN at the moment, the whole controversy over the oil for food scandal and so on. Do you think you can survive that or do you think you will have to resign?

KOFI ANNAN: At this point, we have an investigation going on, a three man investigation. Mr Volcker, Judge Goldstone and Mark Pieth, and I think they are going about it in a very methodical way, and I think they should complete their work. In the meantime I have put forward solid and bold proposals for reform, so resignation is not on the cards for me at the moment. It's not on the cards.

I'm carrying on with my work and I think when the report comes out the public will begin to understand how complex this scheme was. And they will also begin to understand that it was a political arrangement, it was a transaction that was intended to force Saddam Hussein to comply with the inspection requirements, disarmament requirements, and in the process concessions were also made to him which were ...

DAVID FROST: - mistaken, na´ve -

KOFI ANNAN: - and they were also very you know Saddam had resisted the scheme for several years and there was concern that if something is not done the Iraqi population will starve. And some of these concessions were, was the price they had to pay to get the scheme off the ground. In retrospect one may criticise it but at the time because of the urgency and the need to help the Iraqi people some concessions were made.

DAVID FROST: But it was, it was inevitably by the UN and obviously the buck stopped with you, as it were, now, but when it was set up the buck stops with Boutros Boutros-Ghali but I mean the, letting Saddam get away with 1.7 billion dollars was staggering ineptitude, wasn't it?

KOFI ANNAN: I, I think it was, we hear huge sums, the bulk of that amount was from oil smuggling, which the secretariat had nothing to do with. Member states knew it and they decided it was in their interest not to do anything about it. On the oil, question of the oil for food, where some surcharge was put on the oil or arrangements were made with people supplying humanitarian and medicine - ... and medicine - it's not something that was said, done in a manner that it wasn't always easy to catch.

DAVID FROST: And Judge Richard Goldstone said, this was a, this was a quote which I think you would echo and have echoed, but he said it's not UN policy to allow diplomatic immunity to be used to protect criminal conduct. Now you've, you've put that into action, haven't you?

KOFI ANNAN: Yes I have indicated that if any of our staff is found of wrongdoing, and there are criminal investigations, we will cooperate, including lifting the diplomatic immunity where necessary. DAVID FROST: You said you have a very clear conscience about your son Kojo and he has said the same thing but obviously he would be treated in the same way would he?

KOFI ANNAN: We will, we will have to wait for the report - of course he is not a UN staff member, he doesn't work for the UN and so his situation is different, should be up to the courts, but I don't, I'm not presuming that any finding of wrongdoing will come up.

DAVID FROST: As you said, resignation is not on the cards for you at the moment. But if in a year's time or whenever, if you felt it would unite the United Nations, it would clear the air or whatever, you might consider it, presumably?

KOFI ANNAN: Well the interest of the organisation comes first. I mean it's not a question of the individual. And I think at this stage the member states, who understand the nature of the programme, are not pressing along the lines that you indicate.

DAVID FROST: And what about, what's sometimes described as the, the marriage, or the tempestuous marriage between the UN and the US - how's it going this week, is it getting better?

KOFI ANNAN: Well I think there were divisions over the Iraq war. Those divisions did a great deal of harm to the organisation. We were knocked from both sides, as it were. Those who were opposed to the war were unhappy that the UN could not stop the war, and those who were for the war were unhappy that we did not support the war. And these divisions at last I think they are beginning to heal, they are beginning to heal, the last elections where the United Nations played an important role in Iraq went quite well and -

DAVID FROST: ... President Bush in fact thanked the UN for its role in his State of the Union address.

KOFI ANNAN: That's correct. Yes I spoke to him after the elections and he said the same thing to me. But I think we have a role to play and we are going to play it but let me conclude by saying there is no doubt that the UN needs the US but the US also needs the UN.

DAVID FROST: Do you think it's possible now to conceive of a situation whereby the UN and the blue berets etcetera get more involved - that the UN could take over the training of Iraqis or indeed the, fighting the insurgents or - could you see a greater role for the UN actually replacing the US and the UK?

KOFI ANNAN: At this stage I do not see UN peacekeepers replacing the US and the UK troops on the ground. But the circumstances permitting, there's much more that the UN can do and we would want to fulfil our mandate fully.

But if the circumstances are right in term - and here I'm referring to security - we should be able to help with institution building, with ... judiciary, we should be able to help with the training of some of the people in the ministries, we should be able to help with the recovery and, and aspects of reconstruction. But it does imply ability to be able to move around very freely and get the job done.

DAVID FROST: Can you see the day is relatively close when the, the ... violence, the insurgents and so on, comes to an end? Can you see any end to that?

KOFI ANNAN: It will have to end someday but I can't tell you when.

DAVID FROST: What about Darfur? The, the UN commission, as we know, caused great controversy by failing to conclude that the actions of the Sudanese government and its allies was not, they said it was not genocide?

KOFI ANNAN: What is important is that the perpetrators are held to account and brought to justice. Whether they call it genocide or not, whether they use the G word or not, the crimes they committed are so serious, you know, crimes against humanity, crimes against international humanitarian law, they need to be held account and measures should be taken to stop what is going on.

DAVID FROST: Would you like to see ... this rapid response mechanism in action for the UN?

KOFI ANNAN: You mean the European Union rapid response mechanism?

DAVID FROST: Yes, would you like the UN to have something like that?

KOFI ANNAN: Yes, in the sense that rapid deployment is a real advantage. In most cases if you can deploy rapidly you may be able to nip a problem in the bud or to contain it. Since we don't have an army and we borrow our troops from governments, some, it takes us on the average three to four months to deploy troops. In that period a lot can go wrong.

And this is why we have set up what we call the standby arrangements, inviting governments to tell us what assets they would provide if they were to decide to participate in a peacekeeping operation so that when the times comes you can press a button and say you promised an engineering unit, you promised two battalions or you promised us a field hospital, we need those assets now. But of course the decision is still theirs. I'm very interested in the European Union discussions and the proposals.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of the Middle East, you talked about what terrible shape the road map was in a week or two ago, but those pictures that we saw this week of Mr Sharon and Mr Mahmoud Abbas, shaking hands - and smiling too, yeah - did you feel there was perhaps after all a glimmer of hope?

KOFI ANNAN: It was most, most encouraging, after four years of violence and death and I think the two leaders know each other, they should be able to work together. And I think with the support of the international community, and the neighbours in the region, we should be able to move forward.

DAVID FROST: Mr Secretary General, it's always a delight to talk. Thank you very much.

KOFI ANNAN: Thank you very much, a very nice conversation, see you again.

Interview Ends


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.


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