Most leaders in the Middle East told U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan during his recent trip to the region that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and its aftermath were "a real disaster," Annan told reporters Wednesday.

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, Annan said, though he refused to elaborate. He did 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.