Zalmay Khalilzad

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America’s relationship with Iran poses a classic geopolitical dilemma. Iran is an important regional power that pursues adversarial policies with its neighbors and represses its people at home. Yet the United States can only address key issues affecting U.S. interests if it engages Tehran wherever possible. As it did vis-à-vis the Soviet Union during the Cold War, the United States needs to pursue policies designed to preclude regional hegemony and to create a balance of power in the region, while also expressing support for human rights and engaging Iran diplomatically.

If the chaos in the Middle East is to be calmed, the United States will have to work not just with traditional partners but also with competitors.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iraq is facing major financial pressure, and the war against the Islamic State grinds on. The last thing the country needs is a major political crisis. But that’s exactly what appears to be in the works — unless the United States and Iran work together to help the prime minister avoid it.

The latest troubles began on March 31, when Haider al-Abadi, Iraq’s prime minister, presented a new cabinet to the country’s Parliament. That is within his right, of course, but he did so without agreement from the political parties that dominate the assembly. Most of Mr. Abadi’s nominees are reformist technocrats, people with integrity and excellent credentials — but they do not represent Iraq’s major parties, nor do they have their support.…  Seguir leyendo »

This year's U.N. General Assembly meeting has been clarifying in at least one respect: the conflict in Syria will not be resolved by the United Nations anytime soon.

The exchange between U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the U.N. General Assembly debate this week made clear that the Security Council is fundamentally divided on the causes of the conflict in Iraq and Syria, as well as the best path forward.

The key point of contention is whether the Bashar al-Assad regime is the precipitator of the conflict (the U.S. view) or whether, as Moscow claims, it is a stabilizing force against the extremist groups that are thriving amid the chaos.…  Seguir leyendo »

Last week, Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, traveled to China for his first state visit abroad. Mr. Ghani’s calculation — that Beijing could offset the decline in American and Western support — creates a long-term strategic conundrum: Can Afghanistan attract Chinese investment and security assistance while avoiding the perils of excessive dependency on Beijing?

Mr. Ghani’s outreach to China is driven by a combination of short-term realities and long-term goals. The Western drawdown comes at a time when the Afghan government is neither fiscally self-sufficient nor capable of defeating the Pakistan-backed Taliban insurgency. In the short term, there is little alternative to international assistance to keep the Afghan state afloat.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iraqi families displaced by fighting in their home towns receive humanitarian aid at the Khazir refugee camp, near Erbil, northern Iraq, 23 July 2014. (Kamal Akrayi/EPA)

During the past few days, the extremist group known as the Islamic State has made significant advances. After consolidating its gains since the fall of Mosul and other Sunni areas, the group sought to move toward Baghdad. For now, that advance has been blocked by Shiite militias, what remains of the Iraqi forces and assistance from Iran and the United States. It is evident, however, that the Islamic State has amassed enough manpower and resources to move against the Kurdish region. Its recent attempt to take over the Mosul dam as well as its seizure of the city of Sinjar and the other areas controlled by the Kurds, who were overwhelmed by a force using superior U.S.…  Seguir leyendo »

In the coming weeks, Iraq’s leaders must make existential decisions. If they cannot form a unity government led by a new prime minister and motivate Sunni moderates and tribes to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Iraq is likely to disintegrate.

If the central government fails to grant satisfactory concessions to Sunnis and Kurds, the Kurds will push for sovereignty and independence. The Kurds are serious, and the international community must adapt to this emerging reality. While all Iraqi leaders bear responsibility for resolving the current crisis, the greatest share lies with the country’s Shiite politicians, who dominate the central government.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russia’s annexation of Crimea is unlikely to lead to a new Cold War; Russia is simply too weak to compete on a global level. But there is a serious risk that the United Nations could revert to Cold War-era gridlock.

In the euphoria of the Cold War’s end, Presidents Mikhail S. Gorbachev and George H.W. Bush envisioned a “new world order” in which the United Nations would emerge as the guardian of global security. Even during the low points of their relationship, the United States and Russia have kept this vision alive by preserving the United Nations’ role as a convener of collective action.…  Seguir leyendo »

There is a risk that the United States and Afghanistan will not reach a deal on the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after 2014. Both sides want to negotiate a bilateral security agreement. But President Obama, frustrated with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and determined to end the U.S. role in Afghanistan next year, has given Kabul until October either to conclude a deal or face unspecified unilateral actions by Washington. Recent leaks indicate that Obama is contemplating a total drawdown of U.S., and thus international, forces.

My discussions with officials in Washington and Afghanistan have left me thinking that an agreement is unlikely to be signed by October.…  Seguir leyendo »

The use of chemical weapons in Syria has increased pressure on President Obama to arm the opposition. Earlier in the conflict, I endorsed such a step. But circumstances have changed. Instead, the United States should focus on working with Russia to disarm Syria. A U.N. Security Council resolution mandating an inspection and disarmament process for Syria could open the door to wider negotiations on a political resolution.

I have long advocated arming opposition movements that resist dictatorships and aggression. The strategy yielded major gains during the Soviet-Afghan war, in Bosnia, in Afghanistan in 2001 and during the Libyan revolution, all without unduly exposing the United States.…  Seguir leyendo »

The United States has a window to facilitate an orderly transition in Syria without deploying military force. But the window is narrowing — and the Obama administration will need to adjust its political strategy to succeed.

Diplomatically, the administration has focused on engaging the U.N. Security Council and the Friends of Syria, a French-created group of 88 participating states, seven international organizations and one observer (the Vatican). But the Security Council remains in stalemate by Russian and Chinese vetoes, and the Friends of Syria is too unwieldy to reach agreement on operational measures that would change conditions on the ground.

Militarily, the administration’s decision to provide only non-lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition is prolonging unfavorable trends on the battlefield.…  Seguir leyendo »

In his Afghanistan speech last week, President Obama said we must “address terrorist safe havens in Pakistan.” He vowed to “press Pakistan to expand its participation in securing a more peaceful future,” “work with the Pakistani government to root out the cancer of violent extremism” and “insist that it keep its commitments.”

Missing from the president’s remarks was a strategy on how to induce a Pakistani break with Islamic militants. For the past decade, this shortcoming has hamstrung our efforts in Afghanistan and in the broader struggle against extremism and terrorism.

Even with Osama bin Laden dead, the nexus between the Pakistani state and a syndicate of Islamic extremists remains a threat.…  Seguir leyendo »

Since the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan has behaved toward the United States as both friend and adversary — and gotten away with it. The latest evidence of its duplicity is the revelation that Osama bin Laden lived for years in a house near Pakistan’s national military academy and a local branch of its intelligence service without any evident interference.

Even before the American raid last week on Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan had a huge credibility problem. It provides arms and safe haven for Afghan insurgent groups and pays their commanders to carry out attacks, but denies doing so.

In the broader war on terrorism, Pakistan says it is completely on our side.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Obama has reportedly settled on a country-specific strategy for the Middle East uprisings. Instead of crafting a regional plan, the United States will deal with protests for democracy and freedom in each state on its own terms. This approach is inadequate to both the challenges and the opportunities arising from the political turbulence.

The administration's approach so far has yielded mixed results at best. On the positive side, the dictators in Tunisia and Egypt departed peacefully. Steady transitions to democracy appear to be underway, though the situations in both countries are still in flux. In Bahrain, U.S. pressure initially persuaded the ruling monarchy to cease attacks and engage the opposition politically (though the extent to which the regime will liberalize remains unknown).…  Seguir leyendo »

When I visited Kabul a few weeks ago, President Hamid Karzai told me that the United States has yet to offer a credible strategy for how to resolve a critical issue: Pakistan’s role in the war in Afghanistan.

In the region and in the wider war against terrorism, Pakistan has long played a vital positive part — and a troublingly negative one. With Pakistani civilian and military leaders meeting with Obama administration officials this week in Washington — and with The Times report on Tuesday that Afghan and Taliban leaders are holding direct, high-level talks to end the war — cutting through this Gordian knot has become more urgent and more difficult than ever before.…  Seguir leyendo »

Relations between the United States and Afghanistan have recently verged on crisis. Will this week's visit by Afghan President Hamid Karzai return things to a better path? That will depend on four big issues:

First, restoring confidence. There is a substantial trust deficit between the United States and Afghanistan. Karzai feels personally slighted, perhaps even disoriented, by U.S. actions, such as a senior administration official's press briefing about the March meeting between Obama and Karzai and a leaked cable by the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan describing Karzai in unfavorable terms. He has been told by some of his advisers that the United States surreptitiously tried to defeat him in last year's presidential elections by supporting rival candidates and by focusing military operations on areas populated by his base in order to manipulate voter turnout.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the United Nations, has appointed a seasoned Norwegian diplomat, Kai Eide, as his special representative to Afghanistan. Mr. Eide’s success will depend not only on his skills, but also on the friends of Afghanistan at the United Nations providing him with the proper mission, mandate and resources.

The most important task for the new special representative is to form a trusting, collaborative relationship with President Hamid Karzai, enabling them to agree on Afghanistan’s key challenges and on how aid money and military assistance can best be used. Today in New York, the Security Council is scheduled to extend the mandate of the United Nations’ Assistance Mission in Afghanistan for another year — the perfect chance to provide a clear set of priorities.…  Seguir leyendo »

Under the national hydrocarbon law approved this week by Iraq's Council of Ministers, oil will serve as a vehicle to unify Iraq and will give all Iraqis a shared stake in their country's future. This is a significant achievement for Iraqis' national reconciliation. It demonstrates that the leaders of Iraq's principal communities can pull together to peacefully resolve difficult issues of national importance.

Resolving concerns about control of oil is central to overcoming internal divisions in Iraq. The country has the third-largest oil reserves in the world, and more than 90 percent of federal income comes from oil revenue. The effective and equitable management of these resources is critical to economic growth as well as to developing a greater sense of shared purpose among Iraqi communities.…  Seguir leyendo »