AFP: US President Barack Obama Friday proposed setting up a new contact group on Afghanistan including long-standing US foe Iran to help find ways of quelling the bloody Al-Qaeda insurgency.
WASHINGTON (AFP) — US President Barack Obama Friday proposed setting up a new contact group on Afghanistan including long-standing US foe Iran to help find ways of quelling the bloody Al-Qaeda insurgency.
"Together with the United Nations, we will forge a new Contact Group for Afghanistan and Pakistan that brings together all who should have a stake in the security of the region," Obama said as he unrolled a new US strategy for the Afghan war.
He said the group should include "our NATO allies and other partners, but also the Central Asian states, the Gulf nations and Iran; Russia, India and China."
The United States and Iran have not had full diplomatic ties for almost three decades, but in a message to mark Persian New Year earlier this month Obama offered to turn the page on years of hostility.
"We see Iran as an important player related to Afghanistan. We see this as a very productive area for engagement in the future," a US official said Friday on the sidelines of an international conference on Afghanistan in Moscow.
The United States has sent Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Patrick Moon to the conference but there appeared little chance he would meet the Iranian delegates.
"Such a meeting is not on the agenda," Iran's ambassador to Russia Mahmoud Reza Sajjadi was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
Iran will also take part in a a conference in The Hague next week to be attended by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Obama stressed it was in the interests of all of Afghanistan's neighbors to join forces to stop the insurgency.
"None of these nations benefit from a base for Al-Qaeda terrorists, and a region that descends into chaos. All have a stake in the promise of lasting peace and security and development," he said.
Iran has confirmed it will attend the conference in The Hague on Tuesday.
"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 Thursday.
Tehran's announcement marked 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 former president Bush was still in office.
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.
But top US lawmakers Friday warned against an "open-ended" US engagement with Iran given the "urgent" concerns about Tehran's nuclear program.
In a letter to Obama, the lawmakers said any talks must aim to get Iran to verifiably suspend uranium enrichment — a possible prelude to building a nuclear weapon — "within at most a few months of the initiation of discussions."