REBECCA ROBERTS, host:
The United Nations has decided to take on a larger role in trying to stem the violence in Iraq and improve the quality of life for the Iraqi people. The U.N. Security Council unanimously passed a resolution on Friday that calls for using the U.N. to promote reconciliation talks among Iraq's different factions and with Iraq's neighbors. The resolution, sponsored by the United States and Britain, would also direct U.N. expertise at problems such as reconstruction and refugees.
Joining me now is Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the N - the U.N. Good morning.
Ambassador ZALMAY KHALILZAD (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations): Good morning.
ROBERTS: The U.S. and Britain have spent the better part of the last four years trying to restore security in Iraq. What do you think the U.N. can do that the U.S. and Britain have not?
Ambassador KHALILZAD: What's important is that the U.N. has special expertise and abilities to talk to various groups that sometimes the U.S. and the U.N. cannot. And…
ROBERTS: Like who?
Ambassador KHALILZAD: Sorry?
ROBERTS: Like who? Who can the U.N. talk to?
Ambassador KHALILZAD: Probably on the Shia side, for example, I could not talk when I was the ambassador to the Iraq, to the Ayatollah Sistani, or to Moqtada al-Sadr. And the U.N. has that capability to do so. Also, on the Sunni side, there are groups that, on the insurgency side, that we can't talk to that the U.N. would be able to do that, in coordination, obviously, with the government in Iraq, also, that expertise in terms of dealing with issues such as the insurgency, nation building, negotiations with parties to a conflict that would be useful.
This is not a substitute for the U.S. and U.K. efforts. We will continue to do our part but it brings additional capability to the table and therefore, it's a positive development.
ROBERTS: And what about Iraq's relationship with its neighbors? The U.S. has been trying to convince Iraq's neighbors to play a more helpful role toward Iraq, and this resolution authorizes the U.N. to promote what's called a regional dialogue? Do you think the neighbors are in any mood to listen to the U.N.?
Ambassador KHALILZAD: Well, I think the other drive other than the internal disagreements affecting the situation in Iraq is the regional rivalry. And here, too, the U.N. can be helpful. Some steps have been taken in this direction since the meetings in March in Baghdad and then in (unintelligible) and recently in a few of the neighboring states that the U.N. now with this new mandate can move to institutionalize and regularize this, to have the meetings of the neighboring states, particularly Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran, and countries such as ourselves and the U.K. There are forces there to work with Iraqis and with each other towards cooperation and to make this, as I said, a more regularize and as frequently as possible and as needed. And this will be, obviously, something up to the special envoy of the secretary general in Iraq.
ROBERTS: And specifically with regards to Iran, the U.S. has long made the allegation that arms and insurgents flow into Iraq through Iran. Does the U.N. have any leverage to address that issue?
Ambassador KHALILZAD: Well, it, of course, ultimately can bring up the issue to the Security Council if the Iranians or others do not cooperate. But I think at this stage, the issue is the convening of the representatives of these countries with influence and seeking ways to bring an understanding between the key players. It is in that regard that the resolution authorizes and gives the mandate to the special representative of the secretary general.
ROBERTS: The United Nations pulled most of its personnel out of Iraq four years ago after the bombing at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. How can the U.N. now ramp up its mission in Iraq and guarantee some kind of security? Is it fair to ask the U.N. to do this?
Ambassador KHALILZAD: Well, the vote on Friday indicated that the world thinks the situation in Iraq and what's happening there is important and it affects the region and the world, and it is also, obviously, it's a risky place. I have served there myself so I know the risks involved. But the risk should not deter one from taking the steps that are necessary to help Iraqis, given the importance of the situation, but at the same time, prudent steps need to be taken to look after the people who go there after the security. And we have said, the United States, that we will do our part to assist the U.N. in this regard.
ROBERTS: Is this resolution, do you think, an admission that it was a mistake for the U.S. and Britain to go to war in Iraq without the approval of the United Nations?
Ambassador KHALILZAD: Well, I don't want to look back and that - as to what should have or could have been done. Of course, we had our own processes and those processes are legitimate as well. Now, I think the world has come together; a new page has been turned. We all know what happened in the past. The important thing is that the world is recognizing the importance of Iraq to the future of the world and has authorized the U.N. to do what it can to assist the Iraqis.
ROBERTS: Zalmay Khalilzad is the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a former U.S. envoy to Iraq. Thank you very much.
Ambassador KHALILZAD: Oh, thank you.