U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, fending off Republican demands for his resignation over alleged corruption, said yesterday he will expand U.N. support for Iraqi elections...

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WASHINGTON — U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, fending off Republican demands for his resignation over alleged corruption, said yesterday he will expand U.N. support for Iraqi elections if need be.


The allegations of abuse in a U.N. oil and aid program hung over Annan as he made his rounds visiting outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell and Powell’s nominated replacement, White House national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice.


Both U.S. diplomats, along with Iraq’s interim government, have lobbied the United Nations to do more to help carry off the elections scheduled for Jan. 30.


“Let me deal with something that I’m sure is on the minds of all of you: the disturbing allegations over the oil-for-food program,” Annan said at the Council on Foreign Relations. “We must get to the bottom of these allegations.”


Annan pledged full cooperation with investigations. 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. “All U.N. staff have been instructed to cooperate … or face disciplinary measures, including dismissal.”


The program allowed Saddam Hussein’s government to sell oil and use the revenue to buy food, medicine and other necessities. Investigations have found that Saddam skimmed billions of dollars from the program using bribes and kickbacks, some involving top U.N. and foreign government officials. Annan’s son, Kojo, worked for a company that had a contract in the oil-for-food program and received payments for years after his job ended.


Earlier yesterday, Annan said the United Nations could strengthen its preparations for the Iraqi elections, but he stopped short of a specific promise.


Powell noted that the United Nations is taking the first steps to expand its presence in Iraq outside Baghdad, and has increased the number of election experts it will send to the country.


The United Nations did send international staff to Iraq to help with reconstruction, but pulled those workers late last year following deadly bombings.