By NICK WADHAMS
The Associated Press
Wednesday, September 13, 2006; 12:01 PM
UNITED NATIONS -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Wednesday that most leaders in the Middle East believe the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and its aftermath "a real disaster" for the region.
Annan said many leaders believed the United States should stay until Iraq improves, while others, such as Iran, said the United States should leave immediately. That means that the United States has found itself in the difficult position where "it cannot stay and it cannot leave."
"Most of the leaders I spoke to felt the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath has been a real disaster for them," Annan said. "They believe it has destabilized the region."
Annan returned from a two-week trip to the Middle East late last week. His main goal was to get leaders to support a Security Council resolution imposing a cease-fire in Lebanon, but he said he discussed other issues such as Iraq with the leaders he met.
Iran offered to help the United States leave but did not go into details, Annan said. He would not give his own thoughts on whether he believed the United States should leave Iraq yet.
"The timing has to be optimum and it has to be arranged in such a way that it does not lead to even greater disruption or violence in the region," he said.
Annan's news conference was meant to give him a chance to discuss the results of his trip to the region and take stock of the U.N. ahead of the annual ministerial meeting of the General Assembly, which begins Tuesday.
He said that on Monday, the U.N. would host a meeting of the Iraq Compact, a new group created by Iraqi's government meant to help strengthen its economy.
"The idea here is to generate support for the economic development of Iraq," Annan said. "Wait till next week, the pessimists will be surprised as to what happens."
Annan plans to step down on Dec. 31 when his second five-year term as secretary-general ends.