United Nations AP 298.88.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
US President George W. Bush hopes to put a new face of America forward at the United Nations, with his choice Monday of Zalmay Khalilzad as UN ambassador.
Jewish groups welcomed his appointment and said they hoped Khalilzad would continue strong US support for Israel in an arena often critical of the Jewish state.
Officials at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said they "look forward to working with him."
"Khalilzad is considered to have a positive attitude towards Israel and the US-Israel relationship," said Malcolm Hoenlein, vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. "Based on his past record, we have every reason to anticipate that he will maintain the policies [in place] to date."
Hoenlein added that Khalilzad's background could aid the US in the international body.
"Having a Muslim ambassador may help improve communication with some member states at the UN," he said.
If confirmed by the Senate, Khalilzad would replace controversial ambassador John Bolton, who resigned after the Senate refused to approve his appointment and who had rankled many with his criticism of the UN and ideological convictions. Bolton had been serving in a temporary capacity, and during his term had won accolades from many Jewish groups for his backing for Israel and hard line on Iran.
"Not having John Bolton at the UN will be a change," said one Jewish leader who asked to remain anonymous. "You could see a different kind of advocacy there - for John Bolton, support for Israel was a major concern. For others it might be less of a priority."
Khalilzad, a Sunni Muslim, was born in Afghanistan and studied at the American University of Beirut and later the University of Chicago. He is currently serving as the US ambassador in Baghdad and had the same role in Kabul before that. As part of his position in Iraq, he backed working with Iran to defuse the insurgency, a move which has raised questions about what approach he would want to pursue in order to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
One source close to the Bush administration said the president's tack on Iran hasn't changed and that Khalilzad is a team player who will do what the administration wants in the UN.
"We hope that he will be as accessible as his predecessors have been," said B'nai Brith International Executive Vice President Dan Mariaschin of Khalilzad, noting his desire to see the continuation of what he dubbed the "Negroponte doctrine," a policy decision whereby the US vetos one-sided anti-Israel resolutions in the Security Council, which began during John Negroponte's term as ambassador to the UN.
Negroponte himself is part of the personnel moves in the post-election Bush administration, as he leaves his current role as the National Intelligence Director to become the number two at the State Department.
Retired Vice Adm. Mike McConnell, a former National Security Agency director, is set to replace Negroponte.
While McConnell isn't well known to the Jewish community, with whom he's had little contact, Negroponte has had a warm relationship with Jewish leaders.
"Negroponte was very impressive as a diplomat and very friendly on issues of concern to the community and particularly Israel," recalled Seymour Reich, a past head of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.
Now the president of the Israel Policy Forum, Reich said he hoped the staff changes indicated that the Bush administration was taking a new approach of greater engagement on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
Calling the administration's earlier action on the issue a "failure," Reich said "the new faces can only suggest there'll be a reorientation and an acknowledgement that deeper involvement is necessary."
But he lamented the loss of some State Department personnel who could have been helpful in backing that position.
Other Jewish leaders were more critical of the former officials, Philip Zelikow and Robert Zoellick, and said their leaving helped Israel's position.
Hoenlein stressed, however, that the president sets the agenda, and that, "I don't see any major shift in US-Israel policy."