WASHINGTON -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, fending off Republican demands for his resignation over alleged corruption, said Thursday he will expand U.N. support for Iraqi elections if need be. He said he was not offended that President Bush did not ask to see him during this visit to Washington.
Earlier Thursday, Annan said the United Nations could strengthen its preparations for the Iraqi elections, but he stopped short of a specific promise to do so.
The United States is unlikely to be satisfied with the current commitment of 25 U.N. election monitors. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell offered tepid praise for the U.N. effort so far.
"The U.N. effort seems to be on track in support of the Iraqi effort" to hold nationwide elections, Powell said after a State Department meeting with Annan.
Iraqis themselves "have the principal responsibility," Powell said.
Powell noted that the United Nations 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 send to the country.
"We have enough people in there to do the work," Annan said, as he stood with Powell. "And if need be, we'll put in the staff we need to get the work done. It's not a question of numbers; it's a question of what you need to get the job done."
The meeting with Powell was probably Annan's last before Powell leaves the job next year. Annan did not see Bush.
"I don't feel snubbed," Annan said.
"The president and I have met on many occasions, and we also do talk on the phone. And so I don't feel that if I come to Washington and we don't get the chance to meet, I should feel offended or snubbed. This is the nature of things," Annan said.
The administration has had a testy relationship with the United Nations, but U.N. Ambassador John Danforth said the White House is not pressing for Annan's departure now.
Bush startled diplomats at the United Nations when he warned last year that the body would "fade into history as an ineffective, irrelevant, debating society" if it did not help him confront Saddam.
The United Nations did send international staff to Iraq to help with reconstruction, but compounded the difficulty for the U.S.-led peacekeeping effort by pulling those workers last fall, following deadly bombings.
A small U.N. contingent returned this summer.