Thursday, January 31, 2008

Ambassador Khalilzad Gets a Slap on the Wrist for Iran Interaction

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad has done the unthinkable - he debated Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Mojtaba Samare Hashemi, a top advisor to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regarding Iran’s nuclear program without the Bush administration’s authorization on a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Now he is being publicly chastised for it, even though he did not veer from the administration’s position on the issue and even though he did not have any side conversations with the Iranian officials. It’s precisely this administration policy of not allowing even participation on a panel which prevents progress or breakthroughs in raising chances for a diplomatic solution on the nuclear program.

Ambassador Khalilzad accepted the invitation to the panel at the last minute and argued that the appearance “was a multi-lateral setting--in which we made our points and they made their points. There were no handshakes, no side meeting. We do it in [the UN General Assembly] and other multi-lateral settings. No change in policy."

Ambassador Khalilzad is one of the few Administration officials who has had personal contact with Iranian counterparts in the past. When he was ambassador to Afghanistan, he orchestrated Iran's help in establishing a transitional government in Kabul and he also engaged in Iran on security issues when he was in Iraq.

Here is the YouTube video of the debate. (Warning: the Iranian officials speak in Farsi and because those who participated had simultaneous translation in their earpieces, you only hear the answers of the Iranian officials in Farsi.)

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