U.S. may ask Iran to attend meeting
Regional talks will cover Afghanistan
BRUSSELS – In its first overture to Iran, the Obama administration is pushing to convene a high-level meeting on Afghanistan this month that would include an invitation to Tehran, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday.
The administration has been searching for ways to engage Iran, even as it confronts Tehran over its links to terrorism and pursuit of a nuclear program. Throughout her tour of the Middle East and Europe this week, Clinton has mixed tough talk about Iranian behavior with a hope that areas of cooperation can be found. She frequently cited Afghanistan as an example.
Many details about the meeting, expected to be held March 31, are still being worked out, but U.S. officials said the conclave is intended to help implement a U.S. strategic review for Afghanistan, which will be completed in mid-March, and to set the stage for a NATO summit to be held in early April.
Clinton announced the plan for the meeting during a gathering of NATO foreign ministers here, telling reporters it would be “a big-tent meeting with all the parties who have a stake and an interest in Afghanistan.”
U.S. officials said that some countries had favored a much smaller gathering, made up of just those nations supplying troops and Japan, a major contributor, and that Clinton’s announcement was intended to sway the discussion behind the “big-tent” concept.
Bringing Iran to the table would mark a return to the cooperation between the United States and Iran that immediately followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when Iranian officials were instrumental in helping set up a new government in Kabul. But initially promising consultations between Tehran and Washington ended after then-President George W. Bush labeled Iran as part of an “axis of evil” in his 2002 State of the Union address.
“Iran borders Afghanistan,” Clinton told reporters traveling with her she flew to Belgium on Wednesday following meetings in the Middle East. “In the early days of the military efforts by the United States and our allies to go after the Taliban and al-Qaida, Iran was consulting with our ambassador on a daily basis. Where it is appropriate and useful for the United States and others to see whether Iran can be constructive, that will be considered.”