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Ambassador Khalilzad Discusses Role of U.N. in Iraq

July 20, 2007 at 6:10 PM EST
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JIM LEHRER: Judy Woodruff has our interview with the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Zalmay Khalilzad took up his position in April after having served for two years as the first U.S. ambassador to post-Saddam Iraq. He was also U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005. And he joins us now.

Mr. Ambassador, good to you have with us.

ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations: Always good to be with you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You write today in the New York Times that the Bush administration now wants the U.N. to play a more active role in Iraq. This is a pretty significant change in approach, isn’t it?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Well, as you know, the secretary-general visited with the president a few days ago. And he said to the president that the U.N. should play a bigger role, because what happens in Iraq is important for the future of the world. And we agree with him.

And we support the idea of an increased U.N. role to deal with the two big issues confronting Iraq: the internal disagreements among Iraqis; and the regional and helpful role that some of the neighbors are playing.

A new approach for the U.S.

Zalmay Khalilzad
U.S. Ambassador to U.N.
Within the U.N. and outside, no matter what one thought about whether the U.S. or the coalition should have gone in or not, now the future of Iraq is something that affects the future of that region.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But this has not been the approach of the U.S. up until now, has it been?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Well, as you know, the U.N. played a significant role at the beginning after we had gone in. Then Mr. de Mello was assassinated, was killed in a terrorist attack, and the U.N. role has not been as significant as before.

I believe that now, given the situation in Iraq, given the willingness of the secretary-general and some of my colleagues that I have talked with since I have been there and I've made this one of my priorities, to get more U.N. involvement to help Iraqis stabilize the country, it's a good development. The secretary-general is willing to do that, and we are supportive of that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I ask this because the impression people have is that the U.S. ignored the U.N. when it went into Iraq in 2003.

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Well, a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, I believe. Within the U.N. and outside, no matter what one thought about whether the U.S. or the coalition should have gone in or not, now the future of Iraq is something that affects the future of that region, and the future of that region affects the future of the world.

And working together to encourage internal reconciliation, stabilization of Iraq, cooperation from the neighbors is a collective good for the international community, because the consequences of a spreading of violence, greater humanitarian suffering, terrorists taking over a part of Iraq is not good for the international community.

The effectiveness of a U.N. role

Zalmay Khalilzad
U.S. Ambassador to U.N.
Part of the idea is a convening of the neighbors and others who have an interest in Iraq on a regular basis to work towards cooperation with Iraqis to solve their problems.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I ask because, bluntly, I read someone said today, why should the U.S. -- why should the U.N. come in and help fix a problem that was essentially a crisis instigated by the U.S.?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Well, because, as I said, there may have been -- there were obviously disagreements about whether that change should have taken place the way it did within the U.N. But now, based on cold calculation of interest, the members of the Security Council can see that development in Iraq, potential scenarios of how Iraq would evolve is not in anyone's interest.

It is in no one's interest for the war to spread beyond Iraq. It is in no one's interest for al-Qaida to take over a part of Iraq. And the U.N. has some capabilities to help with appropriate mandate, with appropriate representation and support. So it is based on their interest, everyone's calculation of interest, rather than doing the U.S. a favor.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You write about a new U.N. envoy is about to be named. Why do you believe that a U.N. envoy can help make something happen that the Iraqis themselves have not been able to make happen for the last few years?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Well, the Iraqis need help. They have not been able to do it on their own, and we have worked with them. I worked with them when I was there. And I know my friend, Ryan Crocker, is working very hard with them.

But by bringing the U.N. in and others, we are adding to what we are able to do on our own, internationalizing the effort more. And also a key factor that affects the Iraqis situation internally that they are not able to come to agreement is the negative role of some of the neighbors who are discouraging or making it hard for them to come to an agreement.

I believe that the U.N., besides working with Iraqis, needs to work with the neighbors. And that's why part of the idea is a convening of the neighbors and others who have an interest in Iraq on a regular basis to work towards cooperation with Iraqis to solve their problems.

The debate in Washington

Zalmay Khalilzad
U.S. Ambassador to U.N.
I believe that it is important to increase -- and the U.N. is willing -- engagement diplomatically, internally and regionally, so that there can be progress, in terms of reducing the sources of violence that's allowing us to withdraw.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, I want to ask you about that. But just quickly first, right now, all the talk here in Washington, both Democrats and Republicans, about a potential pullout of U.S. troops, discussion about a withdrawal, a redeployment, what effect is that having right now on the Iraqi internal discussions of resolving the problems that they have to resolve?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Well, it's clear that the patience of the American people is running out, and this change in the attitude is having an impact on the Iraqis.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A positive impact?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Ambassador Crocker said that there is an atmosphere of fear there as to what might happen right now because, in part, of our discussions here. It is possible that, were we to withdraw without agreement among the Iraqis and the neighbors, that the conflict could intensify. And, therefore, I believe that it is important to increase -- and the U.N. is willing -- engagement diplomatically, internally and regionally, so that there can be progress, in terms of reducing the sources of violence that's allowing us to withdraw. So it is a good complement to the discussions that we have, a good addition to the discussions that we have about what to do moving forward.

Other countries destabilizing Iraq

Zalmay Khalilzad
U.S. Ambassador to U.N.
I think part of the problem there is clearly arms coming from Iran or Syria and people coming across the border. Part, also, is that some of our friends, like the Arab states, are not reaching out to the government of Iraq.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So the regional matter that you have described, getting the U.N. involved with Iran, with Syria, with Jordan, you mentioned today several friends of the United States you said are destabilizing, not contributing to the stability of Iraq. You're talking about Turkey? Are you talking about Saudi Arabia, Jordan? What countries are you referring to who are contributing to the instability, the destabilizing?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Well, I think part of the problem there is clearly arms coming from Iran or Syria and people coming across the border. Part, also, is that some of our friends, like the Arab states, are not reaching out to the government of Iraq, to the Shia political grouping, and isolating the government, which increases its dependence or the role of groups with ties to Iran.

I think three countries are particularly, Judy, critical regionally. It's Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. And although others also have their role -- and therefore what is needed, in my view, as there is broader international engagement internally, that there is also the regional players are engaged by the U.N. envoy, by the new envoy, and that those, like ourselves, who have an impact on the situation are also there as part of the discussion, because I think to stabilize Iraq you need not only an agreement internally -- indeed, in order to get an agreement, you need cooperation from the neighbors -- but also you need a better regional environment.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you think that that is going to, again, have a salutary, a good effect on the Iraqi discussions internally, it's going to make them more stable internally?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: I believe that, without that regional understanding, it would be harder for Iraqis to reach an agreement internally. And with negative activities by the neighbors, by adding fuel to the fire, it will be obviously that much more difficult for them to come to a mutual accommodation. So, therefore, I believe that it's a two-prong approach, U.N.-led, with support by us as well as others. Both internal and regionally is the right way for the U.N. to move forward, and that's what the secretary-general was talking about.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is the U.N. on board with your approach now?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Of course, the secretary-general has spoken about an increased role because of the impact of Iraq on the world. Now the discussion has to go with the members of the Security Council. I've started discussion with some of them already, and in the coming weeks we will have to intensify those discussions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And President Bush is on board with this?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Of course, the president is supportive of an increased U.N. role to help the Iraqis, yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we appreciate your joining us tonight, Ambassador Khalilzad. Thank you very much.

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: It's great to be with you. Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you.