Indian foreign minister says he will not resign over U.N. oil-for-food program accusations

India's foreign minister rejected today the main opposition party's demand that he resign, and denied that he was a beneficiary of the U.N. oil-for-food program for Saddam Hussein's Iraq, a news report said.

"Certainly not," External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh replied when asked on the private New Delhi Television channel whether he intended to quit after a U.N. report named him and the ruling Congress party as being among beneficiaries of the program.

The U.N. report accused more than 2,200 companies and prominent politicians of colluding with Saddam's regime to bilk the humanitarian oil-for-food program of US$1.8 billion (Ђ1.5 billion) in kickbacks and illicit surcharges.

Singh has repeatedly denied involvement in the scheme, calling "baseless and untrue" the allegations of the Independent Inquiry Committee, led by former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker.

India's opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, has been pressing for Singh's resignation. The party's leaders plan to meet India's President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam on Monday to demand that Singh be asked to quit. Singh said he had the support of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Congress party's president, Sonia Gandhi.

The foreign minister also said Volcker had not contacted him or the Congress party before recording the findings. The Congress party issued a statement Thursday, calling the Volcker findings "unverified" and "demanding an apology for wrongly and maliciously making a reference to" the party.

In New York, Volcker has said that all those named in the report were given a chance to clarify their involvement. The oil-for-food program allowed Iraq to sell limited and then unlimited quantities of oil, as long as most of the money was used to buy humanitarian goods to help ordinary Iraqis cope with U.N. sanctions. Saddam's government chose all the oil buyers and goods suppliers.

The report said countries that opposed U.N. sanctions imposed on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait were given priority, AP reports.


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