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World

Remembering Kofi Annan

JENNIFER LUDDEN, HOST:

Former U.N. secretary-general and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Kofi Annan has died at the age of 80. Annan was from Ghana, the first black African to become the world's top diplomat. He spent most of his career at the U.N. and was the first to rise to the top spot from within the organization's ranks. During his tenure, the U.N. faced one of its most turbulent periods, including the Iraq War. But he also focused the organization on peacekeeping and combating HIV/AIDS.

Joining us now is Colum Lynch, a senior diplomatic reporter with Foreign Policy magazine. Welcome.

COLUM LYNCH: Hello. Thanks for having me, Jennifer.

LUDDEN: Kofi Annan served two terms as secretary-general, and you covered him during that time.

LYNCH: Yes.

LUDDEN: What is your most striking memory of him?

LYNCH: The most striking memory - I mean, I think that - you mentioned the Iraq War. That was, you know, particularly sort of dramatic in the sense that he had worked quite strenuously to get the United States not to intervene in 2003 and was unsuccessful. And afterwards, you know, came out and challenged the Americans on the decision and has declared that, in his view, he found the U.S. intervention illegal.

And that was something that I think was very risky diplomatically and probably had a very powerful impact on his ability to run the U.N. after that. It really set him up against, you know, a conservative administration that, I think, held that against him for years and used that as a kind of lever later to try him for some - I mean, among some conservatives in Congress, to try and push him out of the job.

LUDDEN: So beyond that troubled relationship, what do you think was his lasting legacy at the U.N.?

LYNCH: Well, I think that he was - part of it is style. I mean, he just came across as, you know, this sort of natural kind of international statesman. He wore these sort of impeccable suits from Brioni. I remember he was sort of pushed by one of his aides to sort of improve his style when he became secretary-general and took him to Brioni.

LUDDEN: (Laughter) Really? What was his style before that?

LYNCH: Well, I think he just wore, like, nice suits. But weren't - you know, wasn't like, you know - if you ever saw Kofi Annan when he was secretary-general, I mean, there was never a wrinkle on his suits or shirts. I mean, he always looked perfect. So but - and he was, like, the classic sort of movie U.N. secretary-general. He always looked the part.

He was very sort of articulate, very even-tempered, always looking for ways to try and mediate conflicts. I mean, he later, after secretary-general - he devoted a lot of his life to doing what, you know, he was experienced in doing, which was peacemaking.

LUDDEN: I read that he called himself a stubborn optimist and was kind of known for offering comfort to colleagues who just got really frustrated.

LYNCH: If you're a diplomat, you know, I mean, you shouldn't even be in the game if you're not somewhat optimistic because you always are sort of undertaking - particularly if you're a secretary-general, you know, you have limited power, right? And you have to convince countries that have real power to do things that they feel are not in their interest.

And so he always approached things with a certain sense of - this may seem impossible, but it's really - you know, it's his job to try and - you know, to try and mediate between sort of opposing poles. So I think that that would probably sort of characterize how he went about it.

LUDDEN: Colum Lynch, senior diplomatic reporter with Foreign Policy magazine, thank you.

LYNCH: All right. Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.