U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says most leaders he visited on
his recent trip to the Middle East told him the U.S. campaign in Iraq has
been a disaster for them. In a wide-ranging news conference, Mr. Annan
also said he sees a slight shift in Iran's position on suspending uranium
The secretary-general says that in conversations with regional leaders
in the Middle East, he found two schools of thought on Iraq.
"There were many leaders who felt the Americans should stay until the
situation improves, and that having created the problem, they cannot walk
away," he said. "Then you have another school of thought, particularly in
Iran, that believe the presence of the U.S. is a problem and that the U.S.
But he said regardless of which outcome the leaders favored, most
agreed the enterprise has been harmful to them.
"Honestly, most of the leaders I spoke to felt the invasion of Iraq and
its aftermath has been a real disaster for them, they believe it has
destabilized the region," he said.
In an hour-long question and answer session with reporters, Mr. Annan
declined to give his own thoughts on whether it is time for a U.S.
withdrawal from Iraq. He said the issue poses a dilemma for American
"In a way the U.S. has found itself in a position where it cannot stay
and cannot leave, and if it [the U.S.] has to leave, the timing has to be
optimum, and arranged in such a way that it doesn't lead to even greater
disruption or violence in the region," he said.
Mr. Annan also faced a barrage of questions about the status of talks
on Iran's suspect nuclear program. He spoke hopefully about the outcome of
talks between European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and
Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani, and said he believes he has detected a
slight change in Iran's rejection of calls to suspend uranium enrichment.
"I do note that there is a slight shift, I wouldn't say it's a major
shift, a slight shift in the sense that they are now saying that, let's
negotiate, suspension will be on the agenda and maybe possible during
negotiations, not that it's outright rejections," he said.
Mr. Annan said he is urging Iranian leaders to be more forthcoming
about their nuclear program, while asking the Security Council to be more
"So I think it's a question of really a bit more confidence and each
focusing on issue at hand and what it takes to settle without artificial
deadlines. That you how to do at this time on earth,I think that leads to
further complications," he said.
Mr. Annan said the futures of Iran and Iraq will be among the main
topics he will discuss with leaders visiting U.N. headquarters next week
for the opening of the annual General Assembly debate.
President Bush will address the Assembly Tuesday, along with a host of
other leaders, including French President Jacques Chirac and Iranian
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Leaders from other hotspots in the Middle
East, such as Lebanon and Iraq, will speak later in the week.