US Senator Patrick Leahy on Wednesday gave his personal support to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, whose resignation has been demanded by a fellow senator, saying the US Congress shouldn't make the UN a political football.
The Vermont Democrat, who is also a member of the US delegation to the UN General Assembly, was the third member of Congress to come to UN headquarters to back Annan after Senator Norm Coleman urged him to step down over allegations of the corruption in the UN oil-for-food program.
Leahy said the White House assured him that its intent last week, when US Ambassador John Danforth expressed confidence in Annan and said he should remain at the helm of the UN, was to take the heat off calls for the secretary-general's resignation.
He said he talked to US Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice about Annan. "I know they support the secretary-general. I do, too," Leahy told reporters after a private meeting with Annan.
The Bush administration wants a thorough investigation of the oil-for-food allegations and Leahy said he believes all members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, should wait for the results of the inquiry being led by former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker.
The call for Annan's resignation by Coleman, a Minnesota Republican, made headlines and led to an outpouring of support for the secretary-general from nations around the world. Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Representative Tom Lantos of California, both Democrats, came here to personally back him.
But five Republican members of the House of Representatives endorsed Coleman's call and announced support for a bill that would withhold some US dues to the UN if the organization doesn't fully cooperate with investigations of the program.
Leahy said there is a potential that UN dues could become "a wedge issue" between Democrats and Republicans "and I think it's unfortunate."
As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he said he worked hard several years ago to get Congress to pay its back dues to the UN and doesn't want to see the same problem suddenly repeated.
"With all its imperfections the UN is a lot better than not having the UN, and the US -- with all the concerns it may have about various actions of the UN -- is a lot better off being an active member of the UN than not being," Leahy said.
"You always have people who will take shots at the UN, some of it legitimate, but I think we ought to take a deep breath," he said.
"This is not a time to make a political football out of the UN. We need them in the Sudan. We need them throughout parts of Africa. We need them" for peacekeeping in many countries and to help with elections, including in Iraq, he added.