Andrea Mitchel just announced that Iran will participate in next week’s conference on Afghanistan in the Hague. I believe this is a first for Iran to work this openly and cooperatively with the United States.
Perhaps I am overreacting, but I think this is an amazing and huge step forward to dealing with Afghanistan. We must work with Iran to develop an effective strategy in Western Asia.
From The Boston Globe today.
TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran said on Thursday it would attend a U.N. conference on the future of Afghanistan which was proposed by Tehran’s old foe the United States and called for a regional solution to the “crisis.”
But Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said Iran had yet to decide who to send to next Tuesday’s international meeting in The Hague, which will be attended by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and delegates from more than 80 countries.
News of Iran’s participation is likely to be welcomed by the new U.S. administration of President Barack Obama, who has offered a “new beginning” of diplomatic engagement with the Islamic Republic on a range of issues.
Clinton earlier this month said Iran would be invited to the meeting on Afghanistan, which battles a growing Islamist Taliban insurgency, in a U.S. overture which recognizes the Shi’ite Muslim power’s influence in its troubled neighbor.
Iran and the United States have not had diplomatic ties for three decades and are now at odds over Tehran’s nuclear work.
But analysts say they share an interest in ensuring a stable Afghanistan, where violence is at its highest level since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.
“Iran will participate,” Qashqavi said. “The level of participation is not clear.”
Clinton is expected to provide details of a review of U.S. strategy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is set to be released before the conference in the Dutch city.
Iran says the United States is failing in Afghanistan but that Tehran is ready to help its eastern neighbor.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was quoted as saying a regional solution was needed.
Obama last month ordered the deployment of 17,000 extra U.S. troops to the country. Iran has often called for U.S. forces to leave the region, saying they are making the situation worse.
But both Tehran and Washington oppose the hardline Sunni Taliban and al Qaeda, back Afghan President Hamid Karzai and want stability, reconstruction and an end to drug trafficking.
“We believe that a regional solution should be found for the Afghanistan crisis,” the semi-official Fars News Agency quoted Mottaki as saying during a visit to Brazil.
“Iran’s goal in the region is to help peace, stability and calm which is necessary for the region’s progress,” he said.
Qashqavi said Iran would also attend a separate meeting on Afghanistan in Moscow this week.
In a major shift from the policies of his predecessor George W. Bush, who sought to isolate Tehran over nuclear work the West suspects is aimed at making bombs, Obama has offered to extend a hand of peace to Iran if “it unclenches its fist.”
Last week, in a televised address released to Middle East broadcasters, Obama made his warmest offer yet of a fresh start in relations with Iran.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Saturday he had so far seen no change in U.S. behavior but Tehran would respond to any real policy shift by Washington. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful power purposes.
In other areas, the United States accuses Iran of sponsoring terrorism in the Middle East and of backing and arming Shi’ite militias in Iraq, charges Iran dismisses. But they also share an interest in Iraq’s stability and territorial integrity.
(Editing by Samia Nakhoul)
From the AP
TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran said on Thursday it will attend a US-backed conference on Afghanistan in The Hague next week, in a signal it is ready to help the new US administration restore stability to its eastern neighbour.
“We will participate in the Afghanistan meeting. At what level, I don’t know yet, but we will participate,” foreign ministry spokesman Hassan Ghashghavi told AFP.
His Dutch counterpart Bart Rijs also told AFP that Iran will attend Tuesday’s conference.
The Iranian announcement marks a sharp change from the policy adopted towards the administration of former US president George W. Bush.
Iran stayed away from the last international conference on Afghanistan in Paris in December when Bush was still in office.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had appealed to Iran earlier this month to join the conference which will also be attended by other NATO governments, and “key regional and strategic” nations, notably Pakistan.
Clinton is one of the main instigators of the conference to discuss security and reconstruction in Afghanistan, where a persistent insurgency by the Taliban militia has become a mounting threat to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
“It’s a positive message that Iran is sending… to indicate that it prepared to help the United States to restore calm to Afghanistan,” Iranian analyst Mashallah Shamsolvaezine told AFP.
But he cautioned that Shiite Iran would be careful not to further antagonise the hardline Sunni Muslim Taliban, with which it had hostile relations when the militia held power in Kabul between 1996 and 2001.
“Iran knows that ISAF forces are guests at best and that they will eventually leave Afghanistan while the Taliban forces are an enduring part of the Afghan landscape,” Shamsolvaezine said.
“Tehran wants to act in a way that does not make enemies of the Taliban.”
Since President Barack Obama took office in January, he has made a series of diplomatic overtures towards Iran in a sharp break with the Bush administration which dubbed it part of an “axis of evil.”
In a video message to Iranian leaders marking the Persian New Year, Obama called for a “new beginning” between the two countries which have had no diplomatic relations since the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
The two governments have a shared interest in restoring stability to Afghanistan.
Obama has made the conflict his top foreign policy priority, above the war in Iraq.
Iran in turn has suffered badly from the effects of surging Afghan opium production, with cheap and readily available heroin fuelling a sharp rise in drug use.
It also has close ethnic and religious ties with its neighbour.
In Brazil on Thursday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki called for a “regional solution” to the crisis in Afghanistan, Iran’s Fars news agency reported.
An Iranian diplomat and a NATO official, meanwhile, made “informal contact” for the first time in three decades and discussed issues concerning Afghanistan, NATO officials said.
A NATO official said the visit last week to Brussels by the unidentified diplomat was the first “since the regime of the Shah” of Iran, which collapsed in 1979.
He noted that “the Iranians are interested in possible cooperation on Afghanistan” to better confront the problems posed by opium production there and an influx of Afghan refugees across their border.
Iran will also attend another meeting on Afghanistan in Moscow on Friday, the foreign ministry spokesman said.
Washington has confirmed that it will send a top diplomat to that meeting, being held under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a grouping of central Asian states that also includes China and Russia.
The Hague conference is officially being co-hosted by Afghanistan, the United Nations and the Dutch government. It will be opened by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
About 80 countries and 20 international organisations and agencies have been invited.
This is very good news.