Under pressure to start withdrawing US troops, the Bush administration said on Friday it wants the United Nations to play an expanded role in Iraq as a mediator both internally and with neighboring countries.
Zalmay Khalilzad, a former US ambassador to Iraq who now represents Washington at the United Nations, wrote in an opinion piece in The New York Times that the world body could "help internationalize the effort to stabilize the country."
"While reasonable people can differ on whether the coalition should have intervened against Saddam Hussein's regime, it is clear at this point that the future of Iraq will have a profound effect on the region and, in turn, on peace and stability in the world," Khalilzad wrote.
The US overtures to the United Nations come as Bush and his generals appealed for more time to allow a surge in troop levels to bring stability to Iraq. The Democratic-led Congress has been pushing for a timetable to start withdrawing troops.
The United Nations has been deeply reluctant to work in Iraq since 23 of its top people were killed by a bomb at its Baghdad headquarters in August 2003.
But new UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, a former South Korean foreign minister, met US President George W Bush this week and promised UN help with rebuilding Iraq.
Khalilzad said Washington endorsed Ban's call for an expanded UN role and told public television's "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" he begun talking to the 15-nation Security Council, most of whose members had opposed the US invasion.
"The United Nations possesses certain comparative advantages for undertaking complex internal and regional mediation efforts," he said.
His remarks were in sharp contrast to the war of words between Washington and the United Nations in the run-up to the March 2003 invasion and in the years since then. Ban's predecessor Kofi Annan said later the invasion was "illegal."
Specifically, Khalilzad said on television the United Nations could deal with internal disagreements among Iraqis and neighbors of Iraq, including Turkey, Syria and Iran as well as Saudi Arabia.
Khalilzad said a new UN envoy for Iraq would be appointed in the coming weeks. "With the right envoy and mandate (the United Nations) is the best vehicle to address the two fundamental issues driving the crisis in Iraq," he said.
First, on the domestic side, "In the role of mediator, it has inherent legitimacy and the flexibility to talk to all parties, including elements outside the political process."
"Second, the United Nations is also uniquely suited to work out a regional framework to stabilize Iraq," he said.
Iraq has expressed concern about a major Turkish troop buildup on its northern border, which Ankara, a NATO ally of Washington, has said came from its own concerns about Kurdish rebels from Turkey based across the border in Iraq.
There are also suspicions that several countries in the region, including Iran, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, are funding parties in the sectarian conflict between Sunni Arabs and Shi'ites that has killed tens of thousands of people.
Khalilzad said in the television interview that some Sunni Arab countries were not reaching out to the Shi'ite-dominated Baghdad government, which increases its dependence on groups with ties to Iran.
The United Nations is already involved in the International Compact with Iraq, a partnership with Baghdad and the international community involving debt relief and other economic support. In May, Ban held a meeting with 60 nations, including Iraq's key debtors, in Sharm el-Sheikh.