- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Obama administration has accepted an invitation to attend a Russian-hosted conference on Afghanistan next week at which Iran is also expected to participate.

The State Department said Thursday that it would send a senior diplomat to a special conference of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization being held in Moscow on March 27 to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. Patrick Moon, the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia affairs, will attend, it said.

The United States is not a member of, nor an official observer to, the organization, but it is among several NATO and G-8 countries that were invited as guests, department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters. Iran is an observer and is expected to send a delegation, but Wood said Moon had no plans to meet with the Iranian delegation.

“We’re glad we were invited and we look forward to attending and hopefully we can get something constructive out of this conference,” he said.

“The reason why we think it’s important to go to this conference is that it’s about Afghanistan and how the international community can try to better the situation on the ground, better coordinate activities (and) see what types of things we can do together to help make things better for the people of Afghanistan,” Wood said.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization includes Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan as members. Along with Iran, India, Mongolia and Pakistan are observers. The group has traditionally been used by Russia and China to limit Western influence in energy-rich Central Asia.

The Moscow meeting will take place just ahead of a larger U.N.-chaired conference on Afghanistan to be held in the Netherlands on March 31. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton plans to attend that meeting, to which Iran has also been invited.

The Obama administration is reviewing its policies on both Afghanistan and Iran and is likely to roll out its Afghan strategy next week ahead of the March 31 conference in The Hague. The Iran review is expected to be complete in the coming weeks, U.S. officials say.

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