Zalmay Khalilzad

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Zalmay Khalilzad
Zalmay Khalilzad in October 2011-cropped.jpg
U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation
Assumed office
September 5, 2018
PresidentDonald Trump
Joe Biden
Preceded byPosition established
26th United States Ambassador to the United Nations
In office
April 30, 2007 – January 22, 2009
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Barack Obama
Preceded byJohn R. Bolton
Succeeded bySusan Rice
United States Ambassador to Iraq
In office
June 21, 2005 – March 26, 2007
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Preceded byJohn Negroponte
Succeeded byRyan Crocker
United States Ambassador to Afghanistan
In office
September 2, 2004 – June 20, 2005
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Preceded byRobert Finn
Succeeded byRonald E. Neumann
Personal details
Zalmay Mamozy Khalilzad

(1951-03-22) March 22, 1951 (age 70)
Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Cheryl Benard
Children2, including Alexander
EducationAmerican University of Beirut (BA, MA)
University of Chicago (PhD)

Zalmay Mamozy Khalilzad (Pashto/Dari: زلمی خلیلزاد Zalmay Khalīlzād; born March 22, 1951) is an Afghan-American diplomat, who has served as the Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation at the State Department since September 2018. Previously, he served as a counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the president of Gryphon Partners and Khalilzad Associates, an international business consulting firm, based in Washington, D.C.

He was the United States Ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush and, briefly, President Barack Obama. Khalilzad's previous assignments in the Bush administration included Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2004 to 2005 and Ambassador to Iraq from 2005 to 2007. In 2017, he was considered for Secretary of State in the Trump administration.[1]

On September 5, 2018, Khalilzad was appointed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to serve as a special envoy to Afghanistan.[2] Anthony Blinken, the Secretary of State in the Biden Administration, retained Khalilzad in his role.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Khalilzad was born in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, and grew up in the country's capital, Kabul.[4] He is an ethnic Pashtun from the Noorzai tribe.[5]

Khalilzad began his education at the public Ghazi Lycée school in Kabul. He first spent time in the United States as a Ceres, California, high school exchange student with AFS Intercultural Programs. Later, he attained his bachelor's and his master's degrees from the American University of Beirut, in Lebanon. Khalilzad received his doctorate at the University of Chicago where he studied closely with Albert Wohlstetter, a prominent nuclear deterrence thinker and strategist. Wohlstetter provided Khalilzad with contacts within the government and RAND.[6] Khalilzad has contributed at least 28 papers[7] to RAND Corporation.

Early career[edit]

From 1979 to 1989, Khalilzad worked as an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. During that time, he worked closely with Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Carter administration's architect of Operation Cyclone to support the mujahideen, who resisted the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.[6]

In 1984, Khalilzad accepted a one-year Council on Foreign Relations fellowship to join the US State Department, where he was an adviser to the Near East and South Asia Bureau, headed by Richard W. Murphy.

From 1985 to 1989, Khalilzad served in the Reagan administration, as a senior State Department official, advising on the Soviet–Afghan War, after the Soviet invasion. During that time, he was a member of the Policy Planning Staff and the State Department's Special Adviser on Afghanistan to Undersecretary of State Michael H. Armacost. In that role, he developed and guided the international program to promote the merits of a mujahideen-led Afghanistan ousting the Soviet occupation. From 1990 to 1992, Khalilzad served under President George H. W. Bush in the US Defense Department, as Deputy Undersecretary for Policy Planning.

Between 1993 and 2000, Khalilzad was the director of the Strategy, Doctrine, and Force Structure at the RAND Corporation. During that time, he helped found RAND's Center for Middle Eastern Studies as well as "Strategic Appraisal," a RAND periodical. He also authored several influential monographs, including "The United States and a Rising China" and "From Containment to Global Leadership? America and the World After the Cold War." At RAND, he also had a brief stint in consulting for Cambridge Energy Research Associates, which was conducting a risk analysis for Unocal, now part of Chevron, for a proposed 1400 km (890 mi), $2-billion, 622 m³/s (22,000 ft³/s) Trans-Afghanistan gas pipeline project, which would have extended from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan and then proceeded to Pakistan.

Support for U.S. global leadership[edit]

Khalilzad also wrote several articles on the subject of the value of U.S. global leadership in the mid-1990s. The specific scenarios for conflict that he envisioned if a decline in American power occurred have made his writings extremely popular in competitive high school and college policy debate, particularly his writing that links the loss of US hegemony to global instability.[8] Khalilzad was a signatory of the letter from members of the Project for the New American Century to President Bill Clinton sent on January 26, 1998. It called for Clinton's help in "removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power" by using "a full complement of diplomatic, political and military efforts."[9]


North Korea[edit]

In a published 1993 paper, he advocated for "trade sanctions" against North Korea, "enhancing U.S. and South Korean military readiness", and "direct military attacks".[10]

"Use of force by a U.S.—allied coalition has better prospects for achieving the U.S. objective, either by setting back the program or by producing a more compliant North Korea—depending on how much and how effectively the force is applied. However, given the risk of triggering a second Korean war, it is unclear whether the South Koreans or Japanese could be induced to agree."[10] -1993

U.S. hegemony over critical regions[edit]

"The United States should be willing to use force if necessary for this purpose. There are currently two regions whose control by a hostile power could pose a global challenge: East Asia and Europe. The Persian Gulf is critically important for a different reason—its oil resources are vital for the world economy. In the long term, the relative importance of various regions can change. A region that is critical to American interests now might become less important, while some other region might gain in importance."[11] -1995

U.S. military preeminence[edit]

"For the foreseeable future, this means having the capability for fighting two major regional contingencies nearly simultaneously, e.g., Korea and the Gulf. The United States should also acquire increased capabilities for occasional intervention in lesser regional conflicts, such as humanitarian relief operations, and for countering weapons of mass destruction and ballistic and cruise missiles. For the longer term, it should consider moving toward sizing its forces to be able to defeat the plausible military challenges to critical American interests that might be posed by the two next most powerful military forces in the world—which are not allied with the United States."[11] - 1995


"The United States must act now to weaken the Taliban and stem the spread of Talibanism"[12] - June, 2001

"Washington should

  1. change the balance of power by offering assistance to the foes of the Taliban;
  2. oppose the Taliban ideology--giving air time over the Voice of America to Taliban opponents and moderate Islamic leaders;
  3. press Pakistan to withdraw its support;
  4. aid victims of the Taliban;
  5. support moderate Afghans through helping to convene a grand assembly to select a broad transitional government; and
  6. elevate the importance of Afghanistan at home."[9] - June, 2001

Peace Process in Afghanistan[edit]

"I believe and I've told president Karzai few month ago, because he is talking a lot about reconciliation, which is conceptually an absolute necessity, every war must end, but circumstance must be created for that wish to be successful. I've told him [to] get your house in order first, get the corruption issue dealt with, get governance improved, get services improved, then people would say `ahaa ... i want to be on this side, it looks like it is a better side, the side that is producing resolve.' But if they see your judges are corrupt, and your governors are not providing any services, initially people would think `why should I die for this, I'm going to become neutral`, or worse if the other side is providing more security, let's say, it [sic] will be even more difficult."[13]- June 17, 2009. UC Berkeley Events "If the sanctuary could be put at risk, I think the prospect of reconciliation will improve."[13] - June 17, 2009. UC Berkeley Events

US Ambassador to Afghanistan[edit]

Khalilzad presenting President George W. Bush a ballot from the first democratic election in Afghanistan on October 18, 2004.
Khalilzad conversing with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld accompanied by Lieutenant General David Barno and Brigadier General Lloyd Austin, during Rumsfeld visit to Kandahar, Afghanistan on February 26, 2004.

In 2001, President George W. Bush asked Khalilzad to head the Bush-Cheney transition team for the Department of Defense, and Khalilzad briefly served as Counselor to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. In May 2001, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice announced Khalilzad's appointment as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Southwest Asia, Near East, and North African Affairs at the US National Security Council. In December 2002, Bush appointed Khalilzad to the position of Ambassador at Large for Free Iraqis with the task of coordinating "preparations for a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq."[14]

After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Bush came to rely on Khalilzad's Afghanistan expertise. Khalilzad was involved in the early stages of planning to overthrow the Taliban and on December 31, 2001, he was selected as Bush's Special Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan. He served in that position until November 2003, when he was appointed to serve as US ambassador to Afghanistan. Khalilzad held that position from November 2003 until June 2005.[15]

During that time, he oversaw the drafting of the constitution of Afghanistan, was involved with the country's first elections and helped to organize the first meeting of Afghanistan's Loya Jirga(traditional grand assembly). At the June 2002 Loya Jirga to select the Head of State, representatives of the US convinced the former king of Afghanistan, 87-year-old Zahir Shah, to withdraw from consideration even though a majority of Loya Jirga delegates supported him. That move angered Pashtuns, who were concerned with the disproportionate power of the Northern Alliance in the Karzai government.[16] During Khalilzad's tenure as ambassador, the new Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, consulted closely with him on a regular basis about political decisions, and the two dined together regularly.[17][18] In 2004 and 2005, he was also involved in helping with the establishment of the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF), which is the first American-style higher learning educational institution in Afghanistan.[19] In 2016, the Friends of the American University of Afghanistan[20] presented him with the International Public Service Award.[citation needed]

US Ambassador to Iraq[edit]

Khalilzad began his job as US Ambassador to Iraq on June 21, 2005. He was credited for helping negotiate compromises which allowed the ratification of the Constitution of Iraq in October 2005. Khalilzad also worked to ensure that the December 2005 elections ran smoothly and played a substantial role in forming the first post-Saddam government. Khalilzad also helped establish the American University of Iraq, in Sulaimaniya, and sits on its board of regents.[21]

In comparison to his predecessors, Paul Bremer and John Negroponte, in Baghdad, Khalilzad was considered a success as US ambassador and credited with bringing a cultural sophistication and human touch to the job that helped connect with Iraqis.[22]

Khalilzad was one of the first high-level administration officials to warn that sectarian violence was overtaking the insurgency as the top threat to Iraq's stability. After the Al Askari Mosque bombing, in February 2006, he warned that spreading sectarian violence might lead to civil war and possibly to even a broader conflict, involving neighboring countries. Khalilzad sought political solutions to the problem of sectarianism, and in particular, he worked to integrate the balance of power between Iraq's three main ethnic groups to head off growing the growing Sunni violence.[22]

Khalilzad's term as ambassador ended on March 26, 2007. He was replaced by Ryan Crocker, a career diplomat and former US ambassador to Pakistan.[citation needed]

US Ambassador to the United Nations[edit]

Khalilzad at the 2008 World Economic Forum, in Switzerland, attending the plenary session; 'Understanding Iran's Foreign Policy' on January 26, 2008.

On February 12, 2007, the White House submitted Khalilzad's nomination to the Senate to become the US ambassador to the United Nations.[23] He was unanimously confirmed by the Democratic-controlled US Senate on March 29, 2007.[24] That marked a strong contrast to Khalilzad's predecessor, John R. Bolton, whose often-controversial rhetoric caused him to fail to be confirmed by the Senate but obtained a recess appointment.[citation needed]

Colleagues at the UN noted that Khalilzad has a different style from Bolton and was more conciliatory.[25]

In November 2007, Khalilzad charged that Iran was helping the insurgent groups in Afghanistan and Iraq. He also told the media, soon after the International Atomic Energy Agency's release of its report on Iran, that the Iranian government was clearly going ahead with its nuclear program. Khalilzad explained that the US would try to pass another resolution in the Security Council, under Chapter 7, to impose additional sanctions against Iran.[26]

In August 2008, he urged the Security Council to "take urgent action" and to "condemn Russia's military assault on the sovereign state of Georgia".[27] He also stated that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had told US Secretary of State Rice that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili "must go."[28]

Private sector (2009–2018)[edit]

From 2009 to 2018, Khalilzad served as the President of Khalilzad Associates, LLC, an "international advisory firm that serves clients at the nexus of commerce and public policies, helping global businesses navigate the most promising and challenging international markets."[29] Khalilzad Associates and its parent company, Gryphon Capital Partners, have, as clients, international and US companies that interested mainly in doing business in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Khalilzad, they include companies in the sectors of energy, construction, education, and infrastructure.[30]

Khalilzad served as a Counselor at the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) and sits on the Boards of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), America Abroad Media (AAM), the RAND Corporation's Middle East Studies Center, the Atlantic Council, the American University of Iraq in Suleymania (AUIS), The American University of Kurdistan (AUK), and the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF).[31]

On September 9, 2014, a news items appeared in the Austrian media, stating that Khalilzad was being investigated by authorities in Austria for suspected money laundering, and that his wife's accounts had been frozen.[32] On September 10, the Austrian court made known that the case had been dismissed and the accounts had been ordered unfrozen a week earlier, on September 3. The leak was the result of court documents having been discarded unshredded in the general trash, and then found by scavenging bloggers.[33]

In 2015, he donated over $100,000 to the Atlantic Council, a US thinktank.[34]

Khalilzad's political autobiography, The Envoy: From Kabul to the White House, My Journey Through a Turbulent World, was published by St. Martin's Press in 2016.[citation needed]

Envoy for Afghan Reconciliation[edit]

Khalilzad (left) and Taliban representative Abdul Ghani Baradar (right) sign the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan in Doha, Qatar on February 29, 2020

In September 2018, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo named Khalilzad as the Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, a newly created envoy with the mission of securing a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan.

As of March 2021, he has continued in this role under the new administration of Joe Biden.

Personal life[edit]

Khalilzad is an ethnic Pashtun.[35][36][37]

Khalilzad's wife is author and political analyst Cheryl Benard. They met in 1972 while they were both students at the American University of Beirut. They have two children: Alexander and Maximilian.[citation needed]


  1. ^ The Editorial Board (2016-11-14). "Donald Trump Is Now Hiring". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-06-30.
  2. ^ "Zalmay Khalilzad, Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation". Archived from the original on 2018-11-22.
  3. ^ "Biden administration asks US negotiator with Taliban to stay on". Al Jazeera. 2021-01-28. Retrieved 2021-04-11.
  4. ^ "Who Is Zalmay Khalilzad?". ABC News. January 6, 2006. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  5. ^ "Resolving the Afghan Presidential Dispute". Australian Institute of International Affairs. May 29, 2020. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  6. ^ a b International House at the University of Chicago – Alumni In The News, Ambassador Zalmay M. Khalilzad, PhD '79 Archived 2007-11-11 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "Zalmay Khalilzad".
  8. ^ Khalilzad, Zalmay (1995). "Losing the moment? The United States and the world after the Cold War". The Washington Quarterly. 18:2 (2): 85–107. doi:10.1080/01636609509550148.
  9. ^ a b Abrams, Elliott; Armitage, Richard L.; Bennett, William J.; Bergner, Jeffrey; Bolton, John; Dobriansky, Paula; Fukuyama, Francis; Kagan, Robert; Khalilzad, Zalmay; Kristol, William; Perle, Richard; Rodman, Peter W.; Rumsfeld, Donald; Schneider, William, Jr.; Weber, Vin; Wolfowitz, Paul; Woolsey, R. James; Zoellick, Robert B. (26 January 1998). "PNAC letters sent to President Bill Clinton". Information Clearing House. Retrieved 4 April 2016.
  10. ^ a b Khalilzad, Zalmay; Davis, Paul K.; Shulsky, Abram N. (1993). "Stopping the North Korean Nuclear Program". Retrieved 2019-11-21.
  11. ^ a b Khalilzad, Zalmay (1995). "From Containment to Global Leadership: America and the World After the Cold War". Retrieved 2019-11-21.
  12. ^ Khalilzad, Zalmay; Byman, Daniel (2001). "Afghanistan: The Consolidation of a Rogue State". Retrieved 2019-11-21.
  13. ^ a b Conversations With History - Zalmay Khalilzad, retrieved 2019-11-24
  14. ^ The White HouseStatement by the Press Secretary (December 2, 2002)
  15. ^ "Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad". The White House. Retrieved 2019-07-25.
  16. ^ New York TimesAfghan Democracy and Its First Missteps By S. Frederick Starr and Marin J. Strmecki, Friday, June 14, 2002
  17. ^ Parker, Kathleen (April 11, 2010). "The U.S. can't ignore Karzai's tantrum". The Washington Post.
  18. ^ TIMEInside Karzai's Campaign (October 4, 2004)
  19. ^ "Azizi Hotak General Trading Group".
  20. ^ "Friends of the American University of Afghanistan – Education First".
  21. ^ Dagher, Sam (July 14, 2010). "Prospects Abound Among the Kurds". The New York Times.
  22. ^ a b Steele, Jonathan (April 23, 2006). "The viceroy of Baghdad". The Guardian. London.
  23. ^ The White House – Nominations and Withdrawal Sent to the Senate (February 12, 2007)
  24. ^ LEDERER, EDITH M. (April 23, 2007). "New U.S. Ambassador to U.N. Starts Job" – via
  25. ^ "A matter of honour". The Economist. July 26, 2007. Retrieved August 16, 2007.
  26. ^ Pajhwok Afghan News, Iran supports insurgent groups in Afghanistan: Khalilzad (Nov. 16, 2007)
  27. ^ "UN Must Demand Russian Withdrawal From Georgia, U.S. Envoy Says". Bloomberg. August 10, 2008.
  28. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-09-22. Retrieved 2008-08-11.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  29. ^
  30. ^ "Iraq Dinar - Iraqi Dinar - Iraq Stock Exchange - Dinar Revaluation and Speculation - Investors Iraq".
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^ "Austrian court lifts bank account freeze for ex-US diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad". Associated Press. March 24, 2015.
  34. ^ "Honor Roll of Contributors". May 17, 2017. Archived from the original on May 17, 2017.
  35. ^ "Bush names special envoy to Afghanistan". USA Today. December 31, 2001.
  36. ^ Andrew Chang, ed. (September 30, 2004). "Who Is Zalmay Khalilzad?". ABC News.
  37. ^ "US refuses to discuss Iran's nuclear plans in face-to-face talks on Iraq". The Guardian. April 18, 2006.

External links[edit]

Media related to Zalmay Khalilzad at Wikimedia Commons

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Robert Finn
United States Ambassador to Afghanistan
Succeeded by
Ronald E. Neumann
Preceded by
John Negroponte
United States Ambassador to Iraq
Succeeded by
Ryan Crocker
Preceded by
Alejandro Wolff
United States Ambassador to the United Nations
Succeeded by
Susan Rice