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Iran, US join key talks on Afghanistan

Video by Luke SHRAGO , Pauline PACCARD

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-03-31

Representatives from more than 70 nations – including Iran and the US – come together in The Hague on Tuesday for a key conference on Afghanistan, the first since US President Barack Obama unveiled his new strategy for Afghanistan.

Representatives from nearly 70 countries, including Iran, gather in The Hague on Tuesday for a key UN-backed conference on reconstruction in Afghanistan.

 

The UN called for the one-day conference in a bid to boost efforts to rebuild the strife-ridden country and tackle the Islamist insurgency.

 

This is the first international meeting since US President Barack Obama unveiled policy changes for Kabul. Since taking office in January, Obama has ordered 17,000 extra troops to Afghanistan to tackle the violence, and a further 4,000 to help train the army, along with hundreds of civilians to improve basic services.

 

 

 

 

“Afghans know about the new American strategy in the region,” reports FRANCE 24’s Claire Billet in Kabul. “Obama spoke about an economic and political solution and that’s been appreciated,” she added.

 

After talks with fellow NATO leaders in Brussels earlier this month, US Vice-President Joe Biden said it would be "worth exploring" possible talks with Taliban moderates as part of a change of strategy in Afghanistan.


“Constructive participation”


US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked participating countries for greater involvement in Afghanistan’s reconstruction and sought their support in Washington’s new war strategy to oust al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

 

"I think there are a number of ways that different nations can be constructive in supporting Afghanistan," she told reporters travelling with her to The Netherlands. "There are a number of issues that affect the neighbours (Pakistan, India, China), including terrorism and narcotic trafficking," Clinton added.

 

In addition, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US would contribute $40 million to help prepare for the Afghan elections in August 2009.

 

"We do not support or oppose any candidate but we want to assure that the elections themselves are going to have legitimacy and credibility," Clinton told reporters on Monday.

 

Iranian involvement


Iranian Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Mehdi Akhoundzade is representing Tehran at the conference.

 

Upbeat about the Iranian participation, Clinton said she wanted the Islamist republic to cooperate on border security and drugs-peddling in Afghanistan. "I believe there will be an opening by this conference that will enable all the countries, including Iran, to come forward with how they want to participate," Clinton told reporters.

 

Meanwhile Tehran has strongly condemned the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan, saying it encouraged radicalism. “The presence of foreign troops cannot bring peace and stability for Afghanistan," Akhoundzade was quoted as saying in The Hague, according to Iran's official IRNA news agency.

 

According to Billet, Iran’s statement is very close to Afghan public opinion.” Troops increase is unpopular especially among the population in the fighting areas; for them it means more civilian casualties,” she says.

 

Clinton will be the highest-level official in the Obama administration to sit at the same table with Tehran on Tuesday, but she played down expectations of her first contact with the Iranian administration.

"I have no plans (to meet the Iranians). I can't forecast tomorrow, but we are looking forward to everyone playing a constructive role," she told reporters on Monday.

 

Obama’s administration is trying to reach out to Tehran on issues of mutual concern such as Afghanistan, reversing policies under the previous US administration.

 

In a video address to Iran earlier in March, Obama said he wanted a new beginning with Tehran. The two countries have been at loggerheads on various issues, including a controversial Iranian nuclear program.
 

Date created : 2009-03-31

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