Thursday, March 15, 2007

Zalmay Khalilzad, President Bush’s nominee to replace John R. Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, warned yesterday the world body faces a “mortal threat” if it fails to adopt badly needed internal reforms.

Mr. Khalilzad, finishing up nearly two years as ambassador to Iraq, told a Senate confirmation hearing that Congress should not rule out withholding payment of dues if the United Nations does not address scandals such as the oil-for-food program and misbehavior by U.N. peacekeeping troops.

“I believe the absence of reform is a mortal threat to the United Nations,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, adding U.S. public opinion could turn decisively against the organization if reforms stall.

“The issue of funding has to be on the table, but it has to be, in my judgment, a kind of a last resort,” he said.

“But the reality of the connection between reform and funding is a reality that I will be pointing to and making use of in my interactions with others.”

Lawmakers from both parties effusively praised Mr. Khalilzad at yesterday’s hearing, a sharp contrast to the bitter partisan deadlock over Mr. Bolton’s nomination. The outspoken Mr. Bolton was given a recess appointment to the New York post by Mr. Bush in August 2005 after the Senate deadlocked on his nomination.

On another issue, Mr. Khalilzad said he would push the world body to play a far more active role in the reconstruction of Iraq, saying the United Nations could be a major force for reconciliation after being a marginal player since the U.S.-led invasion of March 2003.

The Security Council was badly divided by the debate prior to the U.S. invasion in 2003, and then-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan drastically reduced the U.N. mission after special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and a score of top U.N. employees were killed in a bomb blast in Baghdad in August 2003.

The U.S.-dominated Coalition Provisional Authority and the elected government in Baghdad largely set policy in Iraq with little U.N. input in the following years.

But Mr. Khalilzad, ambassador to Baghdad since June 2005, noted the Iraq government and the United Nations will hold talks today to try to nail down an accord to encourage international financial support for Baghdad in exchange for needed domestic reforms.

He said the United Nations could lend expertise and international legitimacy on a number of pressing items facing Iraq, including possible changes to the constitution, monitoring regional elections, disarming militias and advising on the politically charged referendum later this year on the future of Kirkuk.

“I believe that changing circumstances are creating opportunities for the United Nations to play a larger role in contributing to progress in Iraq,” he said.

The nomination is expected to sail through the Senate. Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican and his party’s most vocal critic of the Iraq war, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent who left the Democratic Party because of his ardent support for the war, appeared together to recommend Mr. Khalilzad to the committee.

The nominee said his top priorities if confirmed would be: increasing U.N. support to Iraq, Afghanistan and the “Greater Middle East;” the Iran and North Korea nuclear crises; the humanitarian crisis in Sudan’s Darfur region; human rights; reform of the world body’s troubled peacekeeping operations; and promoting business-friendly solutions to the problems of climate and energy consumption.

He told lawmakers new U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has a brief “honeymoon” to press management reforms. Mr. Khalilzad said he hoped to build a coalition of democracies within the U.N. General Assembly to press for changes.

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