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Afghanistan: U.S. Ambassador To UN Says Global Success Tied To Afghan Progress

May 18, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan spoke recently with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad. He talked about the repatriation of Afghan refugees from Iran, upcoming talks between Iran and the United States, and a number of other issues in that exclusive interview with Radio Free Afghanistan's Zarif Nazar. What follows are excerpts from that May 17 interview.

RFE/RL: Iran and the U.S. are due to hold talks on Iraq. What is your view on that? And to what extent are you hopeful that there will be a positive result?

Zalmay Khalilzad: There have been problems in relations between Iran and the U.S. since several years ago, but several years ago the United Sates started negotiating with Iran over Afghanistan. And when I was the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, we used to meet with the Iranian ambassador and talk about Afghan issues and problems with the aim of supporting Afghanistan and encouraging Iran not to take negative steps and be a good neighbor to a [country] that is in transition. When I went to Iraq in 2005, I asked President [George W.] Bush to give me the same permission to speak to Iran over Iraq, and Mr. Bush accepted it. But because of the problems that existed in Iraq, we were not able to have a meeting there, as happened in Afghanistan. Finally a few weeks ago, before I left Iraq, there was a regional meeting; and in the framework of that meeting, there was an opportunity to exchange a few words with the Iranians and talk -- at the table we were sitting -- about issues related to Iraq. Now it has been agreed that before the end of this month, there will be a meeting with the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and the U.S. would speak to Iran about Iraqi issues.

RFE/RL: Iran has deported a large number of refugees -- even people who had permits to work and live in Iran. They've destroyed their documents and sent them back; they treat Afghans very badly. Some [observers] believe that Iran and the U.S. have problems, and Iran sends back Afghan refugees to create problems for the U.S. What is your view on this issue?

Khalilzad: The U.S. government does not want Iran and Afghanistan to have poor relations or to be enemies -- these two countries are neighbors and they have common interests, and we have said that we are not against a good relation between those two countries, and we don't want to include Afghanistan in problems the U.S. has with Iran. Iran and the Taliban had very bad relations, and Iran supported groups that were fighting against the Taliban. But in the end, it was the coming of American forces that had a big role in the change of regime. At that time, the Iranians cooperated, and elements inside Afghanistan that were supported by Iran also cooperated. I think a reasonable view for advancing the region as a whole is not to see a gain in the problems of one's neighbor but rather consider collective progress in one's interest. Unfortunately in the Middle East and Southeast Asia region, old ideas that have created failure in world history still rule. Europe learned its lesson following World War II, and now they know that by cooperating with each other there will be progress for all. Unfortunately, even though Iran in the past opposed the Taliban, they have recently helped the Taliban create problems. And it is possible that regarding the refugees, the aim has been to increase the problems of Afghanistan. We hope that Iran will not repeat its past mistakes, [will] think more positively in its policies regarding Afghanistan, cooperate with the government of Afghanistan, not interfere in Afghanistan's internal affairs, and not help the Taliban who are killing Afghans -- and instead work for the progress of Afghanistan, work for good ties between the two countries, and be a good neighbor.

RFE/RL: Pakistan is also creating problems for Afghanistan regarding refugees, and recently there have been reports of clashes between [Afghan and Pakistani forces ]. What is your view on that ? Why are the border problems between the two sides continuing?

Khalilzad: The success of Afghanistan is in the interest of Pakistan; Afghanistan's success is in the interest of the whole world. Afghanistan could become a bridge between Pakistan and Central Asia. Pakistan has benefited from the progress that has been achieved so far in Afghanistan from a commercial and an economic point of view. Pakistan and Afghanistan should enjoy good relations. I know that the Afghan government wants to have good ties [with Pakistan]. The U.S. has tried to have a positive influence, and in the coming weeks we will see what can be done through the United Nations. The problems of Afghanistan will create problems for other countries in the region. What can a poor country facing problems do aside from exporting problems, including [flows of] refugees? Since the Taliban era, Afghanistan's economic situation has improved and commerce between Pakistan and Afghanistan is over $1 billion now, while at the time of the Taliban it was not even $100 million. There are also Pakistan's internal problems, which are one reason for the problems with Afghanistan. Aside from the problems in Afghanistan's relations with Iran and Pakistan, there is a need for Afghanistan for the Afghan people -- the government to improve their situation. Because the more Afghans are united, and the more the government pays attention to the problems of the people -- confronting corruption, treating justly with people -- the fewer problems from foreigners and countries that want to create problems for Afghanistan. Progress inside Afghanistan by the government and other important elements, and also international support is important, and also better ties and cooperation from the neighbors.

RFE/RL: As you know the security situation is deteriorating in Afghanistan and enemies are becoming stronger, has the time come for the U.S and other countries to review their policies in Afghanistan?

Khalilzad: I can say in general terms that the success of Afghanistan is very important to the world, and Afghan failure is global failure. From that perspective, the world is responsible for helping Afghanistan out of its own interest. The success of Afghanistan is important for the region. The most important issue is the internal issue -- progress in the work by the government of Afghanistan and cooperation by people who care for their country. They should not provide the enemies of Afghanistan an opportunity to use the country or Afghans for their own purposes. This is a key issue. Afghans should use the opportunity that exists for them -- the attention and cooperation of the world -- this is a golden opportunity that should be used.

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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