Wed, Apr 01, 2009 - Page 1 News List

US, Iran set to clash over troops at Afghan talks

REUTERS , THE HAGUE

The US held meetings yesterday with countries from around the world, including its adversary Iran, to seek support for its new strategy to end a stalemate in Afghanistan.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was not expected to hold substantive talks with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mehdi Akhoundzadeh at the meeting in The Hague.

But the conference would nonetheless bring the two together as Washington tries to enlist regional support in tackling Islamist militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakstan Richard Holbrooke said Iran’s presence at the conference was a logical part of efforts to produce peace for Afghans.

“How can you talk about Afghanistan and exclude one of the countries that’s a bordering, neighboring state?” he told reporters in The Hague. “The presence of Iran here is obvious.”

Ahead of the conference, Akhoundzadeh repeated Iran’s opposition to the presence of US troops in Afghanistan.

“The presence of foreign troops cannot bring peace and stability for Afghanistan,” he was quoted as saying by Iran’s official IRNA news agency.

“It encourages radicalism,” he said. “This policy [that Western countries] decide for the Afghan nation and for the Afghan officials does not work out any more.”

Shiite Iran worked with Washington after the US ousted the Sunni Taliban from Afghanistan 2001.

But it backed off after being branded by former US president George W. Bush as part of the “axis of evil.”

It has denied US accusations that it supports the Taliban as a way to keep the US at bay.

In a reversal of the policy of the Bush administration, US President Barack Obama’s team views Iran as vital to any lasting solution in Afghanistan and has sought engagement despite the continuing stand-off over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Clinton, who said she has no plans for direct talks with Iranian officials at the conference, said she wanted its help on border security and fighting drugs in Afghanistan.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said he hoped Iran would “take a responsible position”

“There is no doubt that Afghanistan cannot be stable without a stable region,” Solana told reporters at the forum, which was chaired by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Dutch foreign minister.

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