Senior U.S., Iranian officials meet at Afghanistan Conference

April 4, 2009 - 0:0

THE HAGUE (AP) -- The Obama administration held its first high-level contact with Iran's government here, marking what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said could become closer cooperation between Washington and Tehran on Afghanistan and other global hot spots.

The brief meeting, on the sidelines of a United Nations-sponsored conference on Afghanistan, involved Richard Holbrooke, the State Department's special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Medhi Akhundzadeh, Iran's deputy foreign minister.
Mrs. Clinton called the encounter “cordial” and said the two diplomats agreed to “stay in touch” regarding possible future meetings.
When Mrs. Clinton first proposed the conference in early March she pointed out that Iran would likely be invited, creating expectations for such a meeting with Iranian officials.
The conference, however, also underscored some divisions between the two nations. Mrs. Clinton said she delivered a letter to Iran's delegation here seeking Tehran's assistance in gaining the return of three American citizens either missing or detained in Iran. Mr. Akhundzadeh voiced his government's opposition to the growing American military presence in Afghanistan.
“Victory over terrorism cannot be achieved only through militarism,” Mr. Akhundzadeh told the conference. “The presence of foreign forces has not improved things in the country, and it seems that an increase in the number of foreign forces will prove ineffective, too.”
U.S. President Barack Obama is deploying more than 20,000 additional American troops to the Afghan war.
“The question of border security and, in particular, the transit of narcotics is a worry the Iranians have that we share” in Afghanistan, Mrs. Clinton said at the end of the one-day conference. “We will look for ways to cooperate with them.”
Mr. Akhundzadeh said Tehran was open to cooperation with the U.S. and the international community on Afghan issues.
Mr. Holbrooke's encounter with Mr. Akhundzadeh is the latest in a flurry of U.S. diplomatic overtures to Iran. Last month, the U.S. leader delivered a videotaped address to the Iranian nation describing his desire for closer U.S.-Iranian relations. His aides are also discussing lifting the ban on regular diplomatic contacts between U.S. and Iranian officials. And Mr. Obama may send a letter to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei seeking direct talks over the nuclear issue, according to senior U.S. officials.
At the conference, U.S. diplomats and UN officials called for an accelerated campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban, paired with increased investment in Afghan development projects and alternative livelihoods for poppy farmers. These officials said major neighbors of Afghanistan, such as Iran, Russia and China, should be involved in rebuilding the country.