Iran says to attend UN meeting on Afghanistan

Reuters

Posted at Mar 26 2009 05:59 PM | Updated as of Mar 27 2009 01:59 AM

TEHRAN - Iran said on Thursday it would attend a U.N. conference on the future of Afghanistan which was proposed by Tehran's old foe the United States.

But Iran has yet to decide who to send to next Tuesday's international meeting in The Hague, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said.

"Iran will participate," he said. "The level of participation is not clear."

News of Iran's attendance is likely to be welcomed by the new U.S. administration of President Barack Obama, who has offered a "new beginning" of diplomatic engagement on a range of issues with the Islamic Republic.

In an overture toward Tehran, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said earlier this month Tehran would be invited to the conference to discuss Afghanistan, with which Iran shares a long border.

The Dutch foreign minister on Wednesday also said Iranian delegates would attend.

Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was quoted as saying a regional solution should be found for the crisis in Afghanistan. Iran has said it was ready to help Afghanistan as it battles a growing Taliban insurgency.

"We believe that a regional solution should be found for the Afghanistan crisis," the semi-official Fars News Agency quoted Mottaki as saying during a visit to Brazil.

"Iran's goal in the region is to help peace, stability and calm which is necessary for the region's progress," he said.

Mottaki said earlier in March the United States was failing in Afghanistan and should recognize a new approach was needed.

Violence in Afghanistan is at its highest level since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion, and the United Nations said earlier this month it was likely to worsen this year.

A U.S. official said this week Obama, who last month ordered the deployment of 17,000 extra U.S. troops to the country, was expected to announce the results of his administration's review of Afghanistan policy on Friday.

Iran and the United States have not had diplomatic ties for three decades and are now embroiled in a dispute over Tehran's nuclear program, which the West suspects is aimed at making bombs. Iran says it is for peaceful power purposes.

But the two foes share an interest in ensuring a stable Afghanistan, analysts say.

Last week, in a televised address released to Middle East broadcasters, Obama made his warmest offer yet of a fresh start in relations with Iran.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Saturday he had so far seen no change in U.S. behavior but Tehran would respond to any real policy shift by Washington.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and delegates from more than 80 countries, including Pakistan, will attend the conference on Afghanistan in the Netherlands.