In his last major speech as UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan urged the US on Monday to shun go-it-alone diplomacy and collaborate on its world challenges, including the Iraq war.
He chose the symbolic venue of the Independence, Missouri, library of president Harry Truman, whom he lionized as a "master-builder" of the UN, to obliquely highlight US policies which rocked the world body.
Truman helped found the UN.
Annan, who steps down at the end of the month, to be succeeded by Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, said, "We need US leadership; we have lots of problems around the world ... and we require the natural leadership role the US played in the past and can play today."
"None of our global institutions can accomplish much when the US remains aloof. But when it is fully engaged, the sky's the limit," he said.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the outgoing UN chief was entitled to his opinions.
"There's no secretary-general of the United Nations that's going to be in lock-step with the United States or any other country with regard to its policies. It's not that person's job," McCormack said.
Republican Representative Henry Hyde of Illinois, the retiring chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said Annan failed to mention "the rampant financial and moral mismanagement at the United Nations" and called his remarks "a classic case of misdirection aimed at the United States."
During his two five-year terms as UN leader, Annan often tangled with US President George W. Bush's administration, particularly over the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, launched without a green light from the UN Security Council.
"When power, especially military force, is used, the world will consider it legitimate only when convinced that it is being used for the right purpose -- for broadly shared aims -- in accordance with broadly accepted norms," Annan said.
In response to a question on how to end the war in Iraq, Annan said the US needed to work with other countries, including Iran and Syria, to foster a "sharing" of political power and oil revenues within Iraq's Sunni and Shiite factions.
"If you make them responsible and pull them into work with you, I think it will be in everyone's interests," he said. "Getting Iraq right is not only in the interests of the US and the broad international community but even more so for the countries in the region."
Annan renewed a call to expand the 15-nation Security Council and took a dig at US opposition to a plan to add 10 seats.
Bush administration officials have argued Washington should use the UN only to serve its national interests.
But Annan said it was crucial to organize UN bodies "in a fair and democratic way, giving the poor and the weak some influence over the actions of the rich and the strong."
"It is only through multilateral institutions that states can hold each other to account," he said.
The US has historically been a leader in human rights, Annan said.
"When it appears to abandon its own ideals and objectives, its friends abroad are naturally troubled and confused," he said in an apparent reference to charges of abuse at US prisons in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Iraq's Abu Ghraib.