UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ Secretary-General Kofi Annan today gave an endorsement of sorts to Vice President Al Gore's presidential ambitions.

The moment came as Annan began his speech to the Security Council on the problem of AIDS in Africa. Gore was chairing the meeting, the first of the U.S. presidency of the Security Council.

``Thank you Mr. Vice-President, or perhaps I should say Mr. President,'' Annan said after Gore's opening remarks.

The remark sparked an outbreak of laughter and applause in the council chambers before the secretary-general added, after a long delay, ``of the Security Council.''

Smirking, Gore replied: ``I'm working on it.''

U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who has assumed the rotating presidency of the Security Council for the month of January, invited the Democratic presidential candidate to kickoff the opening event Monday on the impact of the AIDS epidemic on peace and security in Africa.

The meeting marks the first time a health issue has been discussed by the Security Council and the first time an American vice president has presided over the council.