An Aug. 10 editorial, citing a news conference I gave recently, implied that the United Nations believes that the oil-for-food scandal was an "insignificant affair dreamed up by U.S. lawmakers and their friends in the media." It also said that I talked about an "extraordinary network" of people and companies who made the program such a "success." That mischaracterized the United Nations' views and my remarks.

I did say that many of the successes of the program in meeting the nutritional and other needs of the Iraqi people are too often forgotten. However, in response to a question about the effect congressional and other investigations into this issue have had on the United Nations, I said, "If we have a complaint, it is that they have looked perhaps too narrowly at the wrongdoings of a couple of United Nations staff members . . . and have not looked more widely at the extraordinary network of companies across the world who were profiting every day on a scale [that was] a huge multiple of the benefits to any United Nations official."

I also said that the report's findings illustrated the "real need for serious, deep-rooted management reform of our organization" and announced immediate steps being taken by the secretary general, which include waiving the diplomatic immunity of the one staff member to have been the subject of criminal charges -- charges that arose as a result of information provided to U.S. law enforcement authorities by the United Nations' independent internal investigation unit.

The secretary general also has said that he will lift the immunity of any other staff members against whom criminal charges are brought. It is hard to see how that can be construed as not taking the issue seriously.


Chief of Staff

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan

New York