US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton extended a cautious hand to longtime US nemesis Iran by inviting it to a conference on Afghanistan, planned later this month, "as a neighbouring country".
REUTERS - In its first public overture to Tehran, the United States intends to invite Iran to an international conference on Afghanistan planned for this month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced on Thursday.
"If we move forward with such a meeting, it is expected that Iran would be invited as a neighbour of Afghanistan," Clinton told a news conference in Brussels after meeting NATO foreign ministers.
President Barack Obama, in a dramatic turnaround from Bush administration policy, has said the United States wants to engage Iran on a range of issues and the conference invitation would be the start of diplomatic outreach to Tehran.
Clinton proposed the conference, which brings in Afghanistan's other neighbours including Pakistan and other major players, would take place on March 31.
"It is a way of bringing all the stakeholders and interested parties together," said Clinton.
Iran borders Afghanistan and worked closely with the United States after the U.S. military offensive there to topple the Taliban and fight al Qaeda following the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
The United States is at loggerheads with Iran on a range of issues, including its nuclear programme which Washington says is aimed at building an atomic bomb. Tehran says its programme is for peaceful power purposes.
"Our task is to dissuade them, deter them and prevent from from acquiring a nuclear weapon," Clinton said.
Clinton is set to meet Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday in Geneva and she said Iran's nuclear programme would be a big topic, adding that she would raise Russia's discussions with Tehran over the sale of longer range missiles.
"We will also raise with Russia, their continuing discussions with Iran about selling longer-range missiles which we think are a threat to Russia as well as to Europe and neighbours in the region," she said.
The United States is doing a full policy review of the traditional isolation policy of Iran, including whether to open up a low-level diplomatic office in Tehran.
The United States cut off diplomatic ties with Tehran during the 1979-1981 hostage crisis, in which a group of militant Iranian students held 52 U.S. diplomats hostage at the American embassy for 444 days.
Analysts and diplomats have predicted that a dialogue with Iran could begin on issues such as Afghanistan, where the United States is trying to turn around a war it risks losing and plans to send in additional 17,000 troops.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the conference would probably be held in the Netherlands but U.S. officials said a final decision had not yet been made on the location and details were still being worked out.
Italy, whose foreign minister met Clinton last month, has also said it plans to hold a conference on Afghanistan later this year and that it intended to invite Iran to attend.
Date created : 2009-03-05