The UN rejected a US senator's call for the resignation of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, saying no country has asked him to step down and 2,700 UN staff members have signed a letter of support.
Senator Norm Coleman, who is leading one of five US congressional investigations into the UN oil-for-food program in Iraq, wrote in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal that Annan should step down because "the most extensive fraud in the history of the UN occurred on his watch."
The Minnesota Republican joined several US newspapers and columnists in urging that Annan be replaced.
US State Department spokesman Adam Ereli backed the congressional investigations and sidestepped the issue of Annan's resignation, saying "that is not something, frankly, that is in front of us."
Outside the US, Annan appears to retain wide support among the 191 UN member states who elected him to a second five-year term in 2001.
Russia, Britain, Chile, Spain and other nations on the UN Security Council strongly backed Annan in recent days, as did non-council members. The 54 African nations sent a letter of support.
"A few voices doesn't make a chorus," UN spokesman Fred Eckhard told reporters when asked whether he envisioned Annan stepping down.
"He has heard no calls for resignation from any member state. If there's some agitation on this issue on the sidelines, that's fine. That's healthy debate. But he is intent on continuing his substantive work for the remaining two years and one month of his term."
Annan was doing just that on Wednesday, urging Wall Street financiers to support the global campaign to fight AIDS with money and expertise, and preparing for yesterday's official launch of a report by a high-level panel recommending the most extensive reform of the UN since it was founded in 1945.
Eckhard said Annan's agenda for the rest of his term is to campaign for UN reform and fulfilling goals adopted by world leaders in 2000, including cutting in half by 2015 the number of people living in dire poverty.
But the allegations of corruption in the oil-for-food program, which first surfaced in January, have escalated, embarrassing Annan personally and taking the spotlight off his agenda.
Two weeks ago, Coleman's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations said it had uncovered evidence that Saddam Hussein's government raised more than US$21.3 billion in illegal revenue by subverting UN sanctions against Iraq, including the oil-for-food program.
On Monday, Annan said he was "very disappointed and surprised" that his son, Kojo, received payments until this February from a firm that had a contract with the oil-for-food program.
The Swiss-based firm Cotecna Inspection S.A., said he was paid US$2,500 a month to prevent him for working for any competitors in Africa after he left the company at the end of 1998.
Annan said he understood "the perception problem for the UN, or the perception of conflict of interests and wrongdoing."
But he reiterated that he has never been involved in granting contracts, to Cotecna or anyone else.