Thursday, March 5, 2009

US invites Iran to join Afghan talks

This is a major development indeed. Makes me wonder how much of it Hillary discussed with her Israeli interlocutors while she was there, and how they felt about it. It's a pretty good to invite to a conference the representatives of a country that your chief ally in the region sees as its most implacable existential threat.

US invites Iran to join Afghan talks

By James Blitz in Brussels and Daniel Dombey in Washington

Published: March 5 2009 17:21 | Last updated: March 5 2009 19:47

The Obama administration on Thursday made its sharpest break with the foreign policy of former president George W. Bush by inviting Iran to an international conference later this year on Afghanistan’s future.

Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, announced in Brussels that Iran was likely to be invited to a meeting that would bring together all “interested parties” on Afghanistan. Separately, administration officials confirmed that Tehran would be asked to attend.

The US says it remains determined to halt Iran’s uranium enrichment programme, which it alleges is intended to give Tehran nuclear weapons capability. However, western diplomats say discussions with Iran on Afghanistan would demonstrate that there are areas where Washington and Tehran have mutual interests.

If successful, the move would restore links between the US and Iran that came to an end after Mr Bush denounced the Islamic Republic in 2002 as part of an “axis of evil”.

“If you are going to have a regional conference on Afghanistan you have to include the country that is on their western border,” said one administration official. “Whether or not Iran is prepared to play a positive role is another question.”

However, the Iranian regime is a longstanding opponent of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Western officials add that as many as 1m Iranians are drug addicts, victims of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. Iran has said that it has a “positive outlook” towards attending any conference to discuss the future of its neighbour.

The US move comes as Washington seeks to piece together a strategy on Afghanistan ahead of a Nato summit on April 3-4, and contrasts with Mr Bush’s successful efforts in 2006 to frustrate a French effort to establish a “contact group” including Iran on Afghanistan.

The latest move comes as the US and its allies seek to work out how to deal with Iran in the dispute over its nuclear programme.

Several US analysts argue that before addressing Iran over its nuclear programme, the US should first engage with the Islamic Republic over less contentious issues – such as Afghanistan, where the two sides’ interests may be more closely aligned.

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