UNITED NATIONS, Nov 18: Relations between the United Nations and the United States are on an all-time low with Secretary-General Kofi Annan coming under fire for having deemed the Iraq war 'illegal'.

The Bush administration has expressed displeasure over the world body's role in Iraq and there are constant reports in the US media about alleged bribes and kickbacks received by the top UN official in the Iraqi oil-for-food programme.

With the departure of US Secretary of State Colin Powell, Mr Annan lost a good friend in an otherwise hostile Bush administration as he finds the American media lashing out at him.

Talking to reporters the other day, Mr Annan said the United States and the United Nations had the greatest impact on global issues when they worked together.

"I think the relationship is important. The US is important for the UN, and I hope the UN is also important for them," he said.

At the height of the debate over the Iraq war two years ago, US officials had warned that the United Nations was destined for the 'dustbin of history'. Though after the war Mr Annan had stressed the international community to put aside its divisions and join forces to help build a peaceful, stable and democratic Iraq, his claim in September in an interview with BBC that the war was 'illegal, his refusal to send a large team to help with the Iraqi election in January and his recent warning that an all-out assault on Fallujah could undermine the scheduled polls and further alienate Iraqis angered the US officials.

Mr Annan has been held responsible for alleged corruption in the oil-for-food programme which was launched in 1996 by the Security Council to help Iraqis cope with sanctions imposed after Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

US Congressional investigators estimated on Monday that the Saddam government had raised more than $21.3 billion in illegal revenue over a decade by subverting sanctions and the oil-for-food programme.

When asked at a press briefing on Monday about these charges, UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said that Mr Annan felt he had been 'misjudged by certain media' who failed to recognize the UN role in setting up Iraq's interim government, its training of thousands of electoral personnel outside Iraq and its role in setting up an independent election commission and the framework for elections.

"What he (Annan) has been saying ever since the divisive issue of the war in Iraq is behind us. We now need to look forward (and consider) that an unstable Iraq is in nobody's interest. And he's trying to get everyone to work together to stabilize Iraq, and therefore the region," Mr Eckhard said.

He insisted that Mr Annan was "not being obstructionist" in dealing with US Congressional requests for information about the oil-for-food humanitarian programme.

"He wants to help, but there are inherent limits to what he can do as the head of an organization with 191 member states," the spokesman said.

On his part, Mr Annan spoke of the US-UN relationship and paid tribute to Mr Powell, calling him a wonderful human being and a great diplomat as well as 'a good friend'.

Mr Annan said he and Mr Powell worked very well on a range of issues from the roadmap to the Middle East peace to Iraq, Ivory Coast and Haiti. He said he was looking forward "to a constructive and collaborative relationship" with the Bush administration in its second term and the new secretary of state.

"It is when the US and the UN work together that we really have an effective impact on the issues that we are dealing with," Mr Annan said.

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