Annan vows cooperation

WASHINGTON – U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan pledged full cooperation with investigations into alleged abuses in a U.N. oil and aid program that have led Republicans in the U.S. Congress to demand his resignation. He said U.N. employees can be fired if they do not comply.

‘We must get to the bottom of these allegations,’ Annan said. An independent inquiry headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker is ‘the most far-reaching in the history of the United Nations,’ Annan said in a speech to the private Council on Foreign Relations.

‘All U.N. staff have been instructed to cooperate or face disciplinary measures, including dismissal,’ he said.

Earlier Thursday, Annan said the United Nations could beef up its preparations for the Iraqi elections scheduled for next month, but stopped short of a specific promise to do so. The Bush administration has been pushing Annan to do more, and Secretary of State Colin Powell gave understated praise for U.N. preparations so far. ‘The U.N. effort seems to be on track in support of the Iraqi effort’ to hold nationwide elections on Jan. 30, Powell said after a State Department meeting with Annan. Iraqis themselves ‘have the principal responsibility,’ Powell said.

Powell noted that the U.N. is taking the first steps to expand its presence in Iraq outside Baghdad to the cities of Basra and Irbil and has increased the number of election experts it will deploy in Iraq.