Middle East topic of Monday’s Seminars at Steamboat | SteamboatToday.com

Middle East topic of Monday’s Seminars at Steamboat

Former ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq to speak today

Luke Graham

Zalmay Khalilzad

— Talk about two of the biggest international issues the United States has faced in the past 15 years and Zalmay Khalilzad has had a big presence in each.

He served at the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005 and to Iraq from 2005 to 2007.

He saw the effects of war, the results of invading each country and two of the things he is most proud of in his 30-plus years working international affairs.

"I am very proud of assisting two countries bring order," Khalilzad said. "I helped the Afghans with their constitution and the Iraqis with theirs. Helping both countries set up their institutions was a proud moment. I hope I made a positive contribution to improving the lives of people we were trying to assist."

Khalilzad — who works in business and philanthropic areas now including president of Gryphon Partners, a consulting and investment firm focusing on the Middle East and Central Asia — is set to speak at 5 p.m. today at Strings Music Pavilion as part of the 2011 Seminars at Steamboat series.

Tickets are free and available for pickup at 4:15 p.m. at the pavilion.

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"Iraq and Afghanistan remain areas of interest in foreign policy," Seminars organizer Jane Stein said. "Who better to discuss it?"

The format for today's event will be a little different than past seminars. It won't be a straight lecture format. Instead Khalilzad will take questions creating a dialogue.

Khalilzad, who was born in Afghanistan, has been at the forefront of the United States' dealings with Afghanistan since the Reagan Administration.

He served in President Reagan's administration as a senior state official advising on the Soviet war in Afghanistan.

After the attacks of 9/11, former President George W. Bush relied on him for his expertise in Afghanistan.

"I think during that period, the decision to form a government by Afghans as soon as possible was the right thing to do," he said. "It wouldn't have been good for us to govern the Afghans ourselves. But I think we could have done more earlier to build the Afghan institutions."

With Iraq, he helped ratify the countries constitution. In 2007 he became the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

When Afghanistan held its general elections in 2009, there was some clatter that Khalilzad would challenge current Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai.

"I did not think that was appropriate, being that I was an American and had been an American diplomat there," he said. "To run was not the right thing to do."

In addition to Afghanistan and Iraq, Khalilzad said he will touch on other foreign issues such as dealings with China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan.

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