Straw denies Annan claim over oil smuggling

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The Independent Online

Britain has reacted with fury after the UN secretary general Kofi Annan accused the UK and the US - two of his main sponsors - of turning a blind eye to oil smuggling by Saddam Hussein.

Britain has reacted with fury after the UN secretary general Kofi Annan accused the UK and the US - two of his main sponsors - of turning a blind eye to oil smuggling by Saddam Hussein.

The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, rejected the accusation, saying: "I regret to say that suggestions that the United Kingdom ignored smuggling of oil from Iraq to Jordan and Turkey are inaccurate." The reaction from the US was similarly dismissive.

Mr Annan's offensive, reflecting a new aggressiveness that has become apparent since he appointed the Briton Mark Malloch Brown as his chief of staff, could backfire because he needs support of both countries to remain in his job.

Until now, the US and Britain have expressed support for the beleaguered secretary general who did not escape totally unscathed from a report into the activities of his son Kojo in connection with a multibillion-dollar oil-for-food scandal.

The UN investigation concluded Kojo Annan had concealed the full extent of his relationship with a firm that was monitoring oil contracts. Saddam skimmed off billions of dollars from the UN-administered humanitarian scheme in force for much of the time Iraq was under sanctions. But the Iraqi leader profited even more from the Turkish and Jordanian connection. Mr Annan said the US and Britain had turned a blind eye to the smuggling to Turkey and Jordan because both were allies, but added that he understood the reason. "We didn't have billions to compensate these countries, and some felt the oil going in was a way of compensation to them."

In the 1990s, the Security Council was in fact aware of, but ignored, the export of oil to Turkey. But for Mr Annan to go public with criticism of two powerful Security Council members is extremely unusual.

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