World News

U.S. envoy calls Mideast world's "defining challenge"

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Zalmay Khalilzad, the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, on Tuesday called the crises in the Middle East the “defining challenge of our time” and struck a conciliatory note towards colleagues in the world body.

Speaking to reporters after his first U.N. Security Council meeting, Khalilzad, the former U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, said much was at stake in Iraq, not just for that country, but for the future of the region.

“And the future of the region of the broader Middle East, in my judgement, is the defining challenge of our time, the way Europe was for the long time the source of many of the world’s security problems,” Khalilzad said.

“Unfortunately now many of the security problems of the world emanates from that region,” he said.

Khalilzad took up his post on Monday in succession to John Bolton, who left last December. Bolton had failed to win Senate approval for his nomination after serving a 16-month tenure in which he aggressively pursued U.S. interests but clashed with fellow ambassadors on tactics.

The new ambassador said he would listen, be respectful but stand up for American interests.

“I know that the United Nations can be a very effective and positive force,” Khalilzad said. “I come from a lot of field experience, in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and I’ve seen first hand that working with others, working with the United Nations positive results can be achieved.”

“And so with that perspective I will engage, I will work hard. I will listen. I’ll be respectful,” he said. “But I also will speak for what we believe and with the experience that I have what can work.”

Khalilzad defined himself as a problem solver and not a posturer.

“I believe that we don’t have all the answers and others have good ideas as well,” he said. “I am a problem solver. I will not posture. I will work to resolve together differences that we have, so we can advance the agenda which is to improve the situation for the people of the world.”


Khalilzad will travel immediately, joining a U.N. mission that left New York on Tuesday for Serbia’s independence-seeking province of Kosovo.

The United States and Europeans support a U.N. plan for granting virtual independence to Kosovo, but Russia, which called for the trip, wants a new round of negotiations.

“The time has come to bring this to a close,” Khalilzad said. “The Balkans is another region of the world that has been a source of a lot of insecurity and sometimes leaving a problem festering for a long time, unattended, can lead to bigger problems.”

On the United Nations and Iraq, Khalilzad said the world body “can do a lot” because “a lot is at stake in Iraq.” He noted a program, launched by the United Nations and the Baghdad government, on obtaining international reconstruction funds if Iraq fulfils certain benchmarks. The official launch of the program is on May 3 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

But the United Nations has limited its activities in Iraq since its office in Baghdad was blown up in August 2003, killing 22 people including mission chief Sergio Vieira de Mello.