Conference Will Host at Least 80 Countries
(NSI News Source Info) TEHRAN - March 27, 2009: Iran said Thursday that it would attend a U.N. conference on Afghanistan proposed by the United States, and urged a regional solution to the "crisis." Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said Iran had yet to decide whom to send to next Tuesday's international meeting in The Hague, which will be attended by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and delegates from more than 80 countries. State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid welcomed news of Iran's participation, which followed President Obama's offer of a "new beginning" in relations. But he said Clinton had no plans for a "substantive" meeting with Iranian officials at the forum. "This conference is about reaching a regional consensus about Afghanistan. It is not a conference about U.S.-Iranian relations," he said. Clinton said this month Iran would be invited to the meeting on Afghanistan, which battles a growing Islamist Taliban insurgency, in a U.S. overture which recognizes the Shiite Muslim power's influence on its troubled neighbor. Iran and the United States have not had diplomatic ties for three decades and are at odds over Iran's nuclear work. But analysts say they share an interest in ensuring a stable Afghanistan, where violence is at its highest level since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. "Iran will participate," Qashqavi said. "The level of participation is not clear." Clinton is expected to provide details of a review of U.S. strategy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is set to be released before the conference. Iran says that the United States is failing in Afghanistan but that Iran is ready to help its eastern neighbor. Obama last month ordered the deployment of 17,000 extra U.S. troops to the country. Iran has often called for U.S. forces to leave the region, saying they are making the situation worse. Qashqavi said Iran would also attend a separate meeting on Afghanistan in Moscow this week. In a major shift from the policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush, who sought to isolate Iran over nuclear work the West suspects is aimed at making weapons, Obama has offered to extend a hand of peace to Iran if "it unclenches its fist." Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Saturday that he had so far seen no change in U.S. behavior but that Iran would respond to any real policy shift by the United States. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful power purposes.