United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said cooperation from Afghanistan's neighbors will be very important for the success of the new Afghan interim government.

At his annual year-end meeting with reporters, Mr. Annan said that, after two decades of fighting in Afghanistan, he does worry about getting all factions to work together and, as he put it, to "forget their bad habits."

The U.N. facilitated interim government in Afghanistan takes office on Saturday December 22 and the secretary-general indicated the challenge now is to bring the agreement on the new government into alignment with the reality on the ground. In that respect, Mr. Annan said, Afghanistan's neighbors can be helpful. "We need to rely on the cooperation of the neighbors, some of whom have considerable influence on the parties in Afghanistan. If the neighbors work with us on the basis of a stable Afghanistan, a government that is loyal to the Afghan people and determined to live in peace with its neighbors, they [the neighbors] will find it is in their interests," he said.

Regarding speculation that the United States and other nations may widen the fight against terrorism to include the government of Iraq, Mr. Annan said that would be unwise. The U.N. chief said he has seen no evidence that Iraq was involved in the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Despite the current world focus on terrorism, Mr. Annan said the global problems that existed before September 11 such as poverty, malnutrition and HIV/AIDS, have not gone away. He said the international community must maintain its commitments to those issues.

With all the unresolved problems in the world, Mr. Annan was asked, why did he and the United Nations deserve this year's Nobel Peace Prize? "Perhaps the Nobel Prize recognizes the fact that, despite the enormity of the crises that we deal with, we have not been discouraged, we keep trying. We have succeeded in many areas and not done so well in others. We need to encourage hope. Without hope we are all lost," he said.

Mr. Annan said some areas of optimism for the United Nations include East Timor which will become an independent nation next year and Sierra Leone where a civil conflict is winding down and elections could be held next year.