Iran General NewsIran mulling US invitation to Afghan conference

Iran mulling US invitation to Afghan conference

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ImageAFP: Iran said on Saturday that it is considering an invitation from arch-foe the United States to attend an international summit on Afghanistan, adding that the problems plaguing its conflict-wracked neighbour cannot be solved without its involvement.

ImageTEHRAN (AFP) — Iran said on Saturday that it is considering an invitation from arch-foe the United States to attend an international summit on Afghanistan, adding that the problems plaguing its conflict-wracked neighbour cannot be solved without its involvement.

"The US and global powers have realised that the issues in Afghanistan cannot be solved without the presence of the Islamic republic," government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham told reporters.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran had yet to decide whether to take part in the conference but was not ruling it out.

"I am not saying that we will not take part, but that we are considering whether we will attend," he said in comments aired by Serbian state television.

"Our strategy is the return of peace and stability to Afghanistan," he added.

The two men were speaking a day after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Brussels that Iran would be invited to the conference being planned for the end of the month at a venue yet to be finalised.

"There are a lot of reasons why Iran would be interested," she said. "So they will be invited. Obviously it is up to them to decide whether to come."

Clinton's comments were seen as the latest overture by the US administration of President Barack Obama towards Iran.

Washington and Tehran share several common interests in bringing stability to violence-wracked Afghanistan.

Iran is suffering badly from the effects of opium production in Afghanistan, with easily available heroin fuelling a rise in drug use in Iran.

The Iranians also have close ethnic and religious ties with Afghanistan and armed the opposition to the Sunni Muslim Taliban militia that ruled the country until its overthrow by US-led troops following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

Clinton did not say where the meeting would be held, but that Afghan and Pakistani officials would be invited, with NATO allies, donors, international organisations and "key regional and strategic" nations.

The Afghanistan conference is expected to take place days before a summit of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation leaders in early April, but will not be a NATO event.

The Hague in the Netherlands is one venue being discussed, and Brussels another.

In December, Iran shunned a similar French-hosted conference, failing to send its envoy to Paris for an event aimed at persuading Afghanistan's neighbours to play a greater role in restoring stability in the war-torn state.

Since Obama took office on January 20, he has made attempts to extend a diplomatic hand towards Iran, which has had no ties with the United States since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Relations worsened under the presidency of George W. Bush, who accused Iran of being part of an axis of evil with Saddam Hussein's Iraq and communist North Korea.

Iran's nuclear programme, which Western government suspect is cover for a weapons drive, has further clouded relations, as have repeated diatribes against Israel by Iranian leaders.

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