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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 September 2005, 22:05 GMT 23:05 UK
Backing for Annan after UN report
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
The government held the UN chief in 'high regard', Mr Straw said
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has pledged "firm support" to UN chief Kofi Annan following a damning report of the 35bn oil-for-food programme in Iraq.

It found instances of "illicit, unethical and corrupt" behaviour during the scheme and blames the UN secretary general for mismanagement.

Mr Straw welcomed the findings but said he held Mr Annan in "very high regard".

Shadow foreign secretary Liam Fox said they showed that the UN needed "thorough, comprehensive reform".

It is important that in studying this report the international community as a whole draws lessons for the future
Jack Straw

In a statement issued on Wednesday night, Mr Straw made it clear that Mr Annan could rely on UK support to drive through UN reform at a summit of global leaders in New York next week.

"It is important that in studying this report the international community as a whole draws lessons for the future," he said.

"The committee's report sets out recommendations to correct the shortcomings in the UN system.

"Kofi Annan has already been instrumental in pushing forward that debate in the United Nations."

'High regard'

A successful UN summit next week offered "a real opportunity to secure the necessary change", Mr Straw added.

"I also want to put on record the very high regard which the British Government as a whole, and I personally, have for Kofi Annan, in leading and the steering the United Nations through a period of great change in international relations."

The "real culprit" was Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein who had "consistently attempted to divert money which was intended for the people of Iraq", he said.

The report found that poor mismanagement of the programme allowed Saddam Hussein to misdirect billions of dollars meant to ease the impact of UN sanctions on ordinary Iraqis following the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

'No prejudice'

Shadow foreign secretary Mr Fox said that without "comprehensive reform" the UN could not properly do its existing job, "never mind take on extra responsibility".

"British taxpayers contribute 623m a year to the UN - they deserve value for money."

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell said procedures must be put in place to "prevent anything similar happening again".

"The essential work which the UN does and the forum it provides for international relations must not be allowed to be prejudiced by the report no matter how damming may be its terms," he added.

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