JACKI LYDEN, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden. Debbie Elliott is on assignment.

At the end of a rancorous week of partisan debate over Iraq, the Bush administration took another policy turn. It called on the United Nations to step in and help stabilize Iraq. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Zalmay Khalilzad, outlined a plan for U.N. action, including the appointment of a special envoy.

I spoke with him yesterday after he published an op-ed in the New York Times.

Thanks for joining with us, Ambassador Khalilzad.

Dr. ZALMAY KHALILZAD (U.S. Ambassador to United Nations): Well, it's good to be you.

LYDEN: The United Nations pulled out of Iraq after the tragic bombing in August of 2003 on its Baghdad headquarters, which killed the chief of mission and 21 others there. Now, some U.N. staff has since returned to Iraq. I'm wondering is the secretary-general telling you that it's now time for the United Nations to reengage in Iraq in a big way?

Dr. KHALILZAD: Well, when the secretary-general met with President Bush a couple of days ago, he said that the U.N. needs to play and is willing to play a much greater role because the future of Iraq is important for the future of the world. And we share his assessment and will support steps to expand the U.N. role, both to deal with the internal difficulties of Iraq as well as with the regional dimension of the problem.

LYDEN: Is this a U-turn on the administration's part? I mean, several years ago, Collin Powell rejected a French-German proposal to have the U.N. get more involved in the government of Iraq. So is this a reversal of previous thinking?

Dr. KHALILZAD: Well, I think that given the current situation in Iraq, both the domestic and the regional one, a U.N. role - given U.N.'s capabilities - is the appropriate thing to do, to put the U.N. more in the lead on the internal reconciliation issues as well as on the regional cooperation issues. And the United States is willing to do its part, encouraging the U.N. to select the right person to lead this effort, have the right mandate and the right support for success and we're willing to work with the United Nations to help stabilize Iraq.

LYDEN: Ambassador Khalilzad, you yourself served as the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad. You know very well how hard it's been to reconcile the Iraqi factions. And now you're calling for the appointment of a new U.N. envoy to Iraq. I'm wondering how a U.N. mediator can succeed where a talented diplomat like yourself and some others have occasionally and very often in fact felt stymied?

Dr. KHALILZAD: Well, I think what we are doing by this is not to take the U.S. out of the equation. That will not work. What we're doing is to add to the talent that the U.S. brings to the table additional capabilities, internationalizing the effort. And the U.N. is better at facilitating that, and therefore, I think the U.N. will be more able to deal with some of the issues but not without our support, not without the support of the regional players.

LYDEN: You're asking the neighbors to do more, the border countries around Iraq - Jordan, Syria, and Iran, of course - and I'm wondering, given the U.S. role on the Security Council, are you worried at all that the U.N. is seen as dominated by the United States in the region?

Dr. KHALILZAD: Well, that is some doubters(ph), there's no doubt about that, but at the same time, we will know that compared to our role unilaterally or as far as the coalition role in the U.N. is least(ph) the single preeminent player and I think the U.N. is a party that all sides are willing to talk to and the U.N. is able to talk to all sides.

There are some elements involved in Iraq that we don't talk to and so that is also a positive attribute of the U.N. But I think compared to the unilateral U.S. role, this U.N. role I think is more broadly accepted.

LYDEN: By whom?

Dr. KHALILZAD: By all sides in Iraq and in the Middle East. The U.N. can talk more easily with some of the players compared to us, for example, if you talk about the Syrians or the Iranians. And the regional dimension, what we're talking about, is that the U.N. on a regular basis will convene the neighbors, plus others who have important roles to play, including ourselves. And that will facilitate a dialogue among interested external parties in the service of stabilizing Iraq in ways that otherwise is very difficult to do.

LYDEN: Ambassador Khalilzad, I assume that in Friday's op-ed piece that you wrote for the New York Times, you were reflecting the administration's views. And I'm wondering if your op-ed means that the Bush administration feels that it's done all it can to reconcile the Iraqi parties, that it needs someone else to bring the Iraqis together to draft legislation on oil, or revise the constitution, demobilizing militias and the other things that you mentioned in the column?

Dr. KHALILZAD: Well, I think what it shows is that we welcome the help from others. The U.N. has said that it wants to help. We welcome that. We don't see that as a rival approach, but as complementary and are willing to help put out our efforts behind an effective U.N. approach to bringing the Iraqis and the neighbors together.

LYDEN: And the special envoy, where do you think he should come from? What sort of place in the diplomatic world should this person have held before?

Dr. KHALILZAD: I think it has to be someone with the necessary stature, capabilities that can do the job. I think that is a single most important decision for the United Nations to make - the person. Then what is important is that the person has to have the right mandates from the Security Council, and third, he has to have the necessary support. And all of those things will be important.

LYDEN: Zalmay Khalilzad is the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Thanks very much for being with us, Ambassador.

Dr. KHALILZAD: It was great to be with you.

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