Iran ready to cooperate U.S. on Afghanistan

. 3/31/09

Iran pledged on Tuesday to help Afghanistan with reconstruction and to cooperate in regional efforts to crack down on the booming Afghan drug trade, which has spilled over the border.

Iran’s statements at a conference on Afghanistan here suggest that Tehran is willing to coordinate its policies more closely with its neighbors and other countries — something that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she hoped would come out of the gathering.

But the Iranian government also said sending more foreign troops to Afghanistan would be ineffective, arguing that the “the presence of foreign forces has not improved things in the country.”

Iran’s statement came after Mrs. Clinton explained the Obama administration’s decision to deploy 17,000 additional soldiers and 4,000 more military trainers to help build up Afghan security forces.

The United States and Iranian delegations sat across a horseshoe-shaped table at the conference here that grouped more than 80 countries and international organizations to discuss policy toward Afghanistan.

Noting that Afghanistan’s opium poppy production far outpaced efforts to crack down on drug trafficking, the Iranian representative, Mohammed Mehdi Akhondzadeh, said “carrying out coordinated measures” will be “effective steps in line with blocking smugglers’ access to consumer markets.”

Iran’s participation in the conference has been closely watched, in part because of the long border it shares with Afghanistan, and in part because of the possibility that the meeting could provide the first face-to-face encounter between officials from Iran and the Obama administration.

By midday, there were no reports of a meeting between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Akhondzadeh, who is the deputy foreign minister. On Monday, she said she had no plans for a meeting, but did not rule out a chance encounter.

Presenting the results of the administration’s strategic policy review, Mrs. Clinton called for a new start in the country, emphasizing more effective development and better regional coordination.

“Our collective inability to implement a clear and sustained strategy has allowed violent extremists to regain a foothold in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and make the area a nerve center for efforts to spread violence from London to Mumbai,” Mrs. Clinton said in her statement.

She also said the United States supported efforts to peel away those who joined Al Qaeda or the Taliban less out of ideology than desperation. “This is, in fact, the case for a majority of those fighting with the Taliban,” she said.

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