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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Two other conflicts are much on the mind of a top American diplomat. His name is Zalmay Khalilzad. He was born in Afghanistan. And in the years since 9/11 he's been a key advisor to President Bush.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Khalilzad is ambassador to the United Nations, just the latest of several key jobs. And he sat down for an interview from his U.N. office because this month he's taking on one more position, president of the U.N. Security Council. The people who've been to see him in this capacity include activists concerned about Darfur. That's the region of Sudan where, according to the U.S., the government has responded to rebellions by committing genocide. The activists say they want more troops, helicopters and more pressure on the Sudanese government.

Mr. ZALMAY KHALILZAD (U.S. Ambassador to U.N.): What we very much agree with with them, that more needs to be done to help the people of Darfur. We have had a problem that the government of Sudan does not want to have an effective force there to protect their people. And some members of the council, in particular China, had been protecting the government from further council action. And we will work with the Chinese, engage them, press them, so that it cooperates.

MONTAGNE: Now, China is protective - as you put it - of the regime in Sudan because China gets oil from Sudan. It has economic interests in that country.

Mr. KHALILZAD: It does. And also the Chinese tend to believe that the emphasis needs to be on a political settlement between the rebels and the government. We think a political settlement is important, but given the fragmentation of the rebel movement, we believe that that's going to take time. In order to deal with the situation in terms of violence, in terms of humanitarian situation, we need to send forces to protect the civilians while we work on the political track.

MONTAGNE: Although there has been approval for 26,000 international soldiers, and not nearly that many are actually there.

Mr. KHALILZAD: Oh, you're absolutely right. We do not have even 10,000 forces there yet. The secretary-general has said his plans are to have 80 percent of the force there by the end of the year. We want to make sure that that happens.

MONTAGNE: Sudan doesn't seem the least bit interested in helping the U.N. in its efforts. Just shortly after the international criminal court issued a warrant for a Sudanese official - a man by the name of Ahmad Harun, accused of crimes against humanity - the Sudanese government actually promoted him to be minister of humanitarian affairs. It seemed to be thumbing its nose at the international community.

Mr. KHALILZAD: It is. What we have here is a government that has not been cooperative, has been defiant, as you say. And we will have a debate on the mandate for the forces that are there and are working to prepare ourselves for that debate in the Security Council.

MONTAGNE: Mr. Ambassador, I'd like to turn now to a country that you know very well - Afghanistan. The Taliban has just mounted an offensive in the southern province of Kandahar. We're seeing pictures and hearing about hundreds of villagers fleeing their homes. Why has so little progress been made against the Taliban in areas like Kandahar?

Mr. KHALILZAD: I believe that there of course is the problem of Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan cooperating with each other. It's a tough issue that the government of Afghanistan faces. It needs to move forward on a number of issues - the reform of the government, accountability, dealing with corruption, dealing with the problems of narcotics. And at the same time the international community needs to sustain and enhance its effort in support of those efforts by the Afghans.

MONTAGNE: A few days ago Afghan President Hamid Karzai threatened to send troops across the Afghan border into Pakistan to take up the fight with the Taliban hiding there and planning attacks from there. Is that a realistic threat for President Karzai to make?

Mr. KHALILZAD: I think it's very important for the two to cooperate. Threats or allowing each other's territory to be used against the other are not the way to solve this problem. I think President Karzai was obviously frustrated, has been frustrated with the situation, and his statements reflect that frustration.

MONTAGNE: What can be done that is not being done at this point in time, specifically?

Mr. KHALILZAD: First, there is a lot that has happened that's positive in Afghanistan. I remember when I went there first after the overthrow of the Taliban, Kabul was kind of a dead city. There was no telephones. We had to take telephones from Sweden to be able to communicate internationally. Now there are more than 3.5 million cell phones.

And a lot of other progress has been made. But at the same time there is a problem of corruption, I think, which undermines support for the government if it's not dealt with.

MONTAGNE: Although those are problems that have been well known for several years - corruption. Why hasn't there been a crackdown on corruption? I mean, is that not possible to do?

Mr. KHALILZAD: Well, I think it is a difficult problem. It is not an easy problem. It's part of the political culture of that region. But I think you can do things that can begin to address the problem that shows to the people that you are making progress, although it's going to take time to completely succeed. And therefore it's an urgent issue for the government of Afghanistan to address the problem of corruption, the problem of governance as effectively as possible, as soon as possible.

MONTAGNE: This government has begun to be a concern in the West. You have been denying in recent weeks rumors that you might be a candidate for president in next year's election. You were born in Afghanistan. Why wouldn't you consider that? Why are you saying absolutely not?

Mr. KHALILZAD: Well, I'm, you know, the U.S. representative of the United Nations. I'm proud of doing that. I will help Afghanistan when I leave this job. But this idea of me running for president is - I don't know, it's a rumor that keeps coming. I've stated what I've stated repeatedly. I have a soft spot for Afghanistan, but running for the president is not part of my plan.

MONTAGNE: Although of course the election is a year and a half off.

Mr. KHALILZAD: You're right.

MONTAGNE: So there's plenty time to think about it.

Mr. KHALILZAD: Well, I have decided for myself already. But I will do what I can after I leave this job to help Afghanistan, to help Iraq. These are countries that I've spent a lot of time in and worked with their leaders. I would like both to succeed and I will spend a good part of my time focusing on those two countries and helping them.

MONTAGNE: Ambassador Khalilzad, thanks you very much for talking with us.

Mr. KHALILZAD: Well, it's good to be good with you again.

MONTAGNE: Zalmay Khalilzad is U.S. ambassador to the U.N., and he spoke to us from his office at the U.N.

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