Accessibility links

Breaking News

Nominees for US Ambassadors to Iraq, Afghanistan Appear Before Congress

President Bush's nominees to be the next ambassadors to Iraq and Afghanistan assured a Senate panel Thursday that if confirmed, they would work to promote stability in both countries. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

Ryan Crocker, who has been nominated to be U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and William Wood, nominated to be U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, appeared before a confirmation hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Ambassador Crocker defended President Bush's decision to increase troop strength in Iraq by 21,500, saying it would help dampen down violence to allow political and economic activity to move forward. But he acknowledged that progress toward that end depends in large part on the Iraqis. It is a point, he said, he would underscore in Baghdad if he is confirmed.

"It will require hard work and hard decisions on the part of the Iraqis," he said. "If you confirm me, I intend to deliver that message clearly to Iraq's leaders. The Iraqis have to make some tough choices and then follow through on them. We need to help them to do so. Their success will be ours, in Iraq, in the region, and beyond. But similarly, failure would feed the forces of terror and extremism, well beyond Iraq's borders. We would all pay the price."

As the United States increases troop levels in Iraq, it is also doing so in Afghanistan. President Bush earlier in the day announced that more troops were being deployed in Afghanistan to help NATO forces launch a spring offensive against the Taleban. Ambassador William Wood said the action is necessary to prevent an escalation of violence in the country.

"One challenge is the probability of increased violence in the spring by the Taleban, as there has been for the last several years," he noted. "Although the Taleban probably poses no strategic threat to the government of Afghanistan at this time, it is important that the Afghan government, local leaders, internal security forces, and ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] forces prepare for such attacks. I would consider it a critical part of my job to support them however possible."

Both Ambassador Wood and Ambassador Crocker expressed concern about Iranian influence in Iraq.

On Wednesday, President Bush said Iran's elite Quds force, which has ties to the Tehran government, is supplying sophisticated bomb-making materials to insurgent groups in Iraq.

"Iran is currently playing - not only unhelpful, but deeply disturbing role - in Iraq," added Ambassador Crocker. "We would obviously like that to change. At this juncture, I am not persuaded that we ourselves could be the agent of that change. The Iranians understand this pretty clearly. Perhaps through engagement in a regional context, they will take another look at what their long-term interests in the region are, and vis-à-vis Iraq are, and shift course."

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has proposed a conference of Iraq's neighbors, including Iran, to elicit their help in reducing violence in the country.

Ambassador Wood said he would support U.S. engagement with Iran on such issues as drug trafficking. But he noted the Bush administration has made it clear there would be no such engagement until Tehran halts its nuclear program, which the United States and its allies believe is aimed at producing nuclear weapons.

"In the case of Afghanistan, the United States and Iran have a number of interests in common: there are a number of areas where we could profitably work together if we could begin a process of engagement," he said. "Iran is strongly counter-drug, for instance. They have one of the highest numbers of heroin addicts in the world, and their effort to fight the heroin trade is extraordinary. At the same time, we have to get past the issue of weapons of mass destruction, and solve it."

Wood pledged, if confirmed, to support the Kabul government's efforts toward eradication of poppy fields to control heroin production. He is currently U.S. ambassador to Colombia, where the United States is aiding Colombian anti-drug and anti-insurgency operations in a country that is the world's largest cocaine producer.

If confirmed, Ambassador Wood would replace Ronald Neumann as the top U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan.

Ambassador Crocker, who is currently U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, would succeed Zalmay Khalilzad in Iraq.

The Senate is expected to confirm both nominees in the coming weeks.