UNITED NATIONS -
The United Nations was rocked by allegations from a former British minister that Britain spied on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in the run-up to the war in Iraq.
Annan spokesman Fred Eckhard had no immediate reaction to the stunning claims by Clare Short but said the UN chief was at work on a statement expected later in the day.
"These things are done and in the case of Kofi's office it's been done for some time," said Short, a vocal critic of the war. British Prime Minister Tony Blair blasted the allegations as "deeply irresponsible."
In addition to dealing Blair a setback in his bid to calm questions about his handling of pre-war intelligence, the claims have shaken the United Nations as it prepares to re-engage in Iraq and help the country hold elections.
The United Nations was rocked by allegations from a former British minister that Britain spied on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan (pictured) in the run-up to the war in Iraq. (AFP/Jiji Press)
"All this needs to be investigated by UN security and I believe they will do this," Russia's UN ambassador Sergey Lavrov told reporters.
"This shows that the British intelligence services at least technically are very professional, I assume," said Lavrov. "But it is illegal."
Short's allegations come just a day after charges were dropped against British intelligence translator Katherine Gun, accused of leaking a US request for help from British intelligence in spying on UN nations ahead of the war.
The US memo -- details of which emerged in a British newspaper -- was sent to British authorities at the time when Washington and London were seeking a UN Security Council resolution to green-light their invasion of Iraq.
Angola, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea and Pakistan were the council nations named in the memo as targets of the eavesdropping effort, which Gun feared would have been illegal.
The nations concerned have repeatedly declined to comment on the January 2003 memo as the often fractious council tries to heal the bitter rifts which emerged last year over the US and British decision to launch the war.
Eckhard on Wednesday reiterated that the alleged US spying concerned diplomatic missions which are not on the international territory of the United Nations complex.
"These allegations don't concern something that is said to have happened within this building or on our premises," he said.
"Its a matter between those governments who may or may not feel aggrieved and the host country, the United States."
Asked if there might have been spying against the United Nations itself, he replied: "We have no reason to believe anything like that has happened in this building recently."
But he said security officers had the "capability" to sweep the UN's New York headquarters for wiretaps and other bugging devices.
Short, who before her resignation in May was one of the longest-serving members of Blair's government, told the BBC that she had seen transcripts of some of Annan's conversations.
"In fact I've had conversations with Kofi in the run-up to war, thinking: 'Oh dear, there will be a transcript of this and people will see what he and I are saying.'"
Blair said he had "huge respect" for Annan, whom he called a "personal friend."
But he added: "We are going to be in a very dangerous situation as a country if people feel they can simply spill out secrets or details of security operations -- whether false or true, actually -- and get away with it."
© 2004 AFP